They were "just talking, just having fun, laughing, not paying attention," when the driver, Ben Quinn, turned around to talk to the youths in the back seat. That, and the desperate swerve away from the curb, the sound of the back tire as it hit, are the only things they remember about the wreck.

Within an hour, 18-year-old Quinn, a Bethesda football star, was dead, and his buddy Eric Peek, who also played on the Walt Whitman High School team, was in critical condition at Suburban Hospital. The two in the back seat, brothers George and Peter Speros, of Potomac, were injured, but as one of them put it yesterday, "lucky as heck to be alive."

The accident, which Montgomery County police say occurred when Quinn's car went out of control and struck a light pole at the intersection of Wilson Lane and River Road, grew out of what Peter Speros called "just a typical Friday night."

There was nothing remarkable, their friend Chris Alerne says, about "cruising around" in Bethesda -- "the kind of thing everybody does."

The four youths in the car were all good friends: Quinn, named an allmetropolitan player by The Washington Post; 18-year-old Peek, a football letterman at Whitman; Peter Speros, 17, also an all-metropolitan player from St. John's College High School, in the District, and his 18-year-old brother George, who also played on the St. John's team.

Quinn and Peek had been together Friday afternoon at Rugby practice, according to Aherne, and then had gone out with the Speros brothers that night.

Peter Speros said yesterday that the four had been at a friend's house in Rockville, where they talked and where "we had some beer."

"But we weren't drunk... we really weren't drunk," Speros added.

The youths, he said, had gone to a Roy Rogers Restaurant on River Road and then were heading to a party in Potomac when the accident occurred.

"I didn't think we were going that fast, about the speed limit, maybe 45 or 50," Speros recalled.

Aherne said he and another group of youths were heading for the same party and somehow lost sight of Quinn, who was supposed to be following them. The accident "is going to make a lot of people think," he said yesterday.

"I'm going to do a lot of thinking. I'm going to think a hundred times before I drink and drive again or even before I drink again," he said.

Aherne said that Quinn, a senior who played both offense and defense on Whitman's team, was "a careful driver" who loved the new Chevy Monte Carlo he was driving Friday night. The car had been a present two months ago from Quinn's parents, according to his sister, Jane.

His mother, Ella Quinn, said that two years ago when her son first started playing football, and wasn't playing well, his father told him, "If you get a football scholarship, I'm going to buy you a car."

In January, Quinn, who was being recruited by colleges around the country, chose Virginia Tech, and received a full scholarship.

"He worked and worked, and we kept our promise and gave him the car," Ella Quinn said.

Yesterday, friends from Whitman who gathered at Quinn's home at 5001 Nahant St., described him as "very shy, really modest" about his role in helping the Whitman Vikings reach the finals of the state football championship last year.

Friends had been swarming to the home since yesterday morning, and others had visited the hospital to learn the condition of Eric Peek, of 5908 Folkstone Rd.

Peek, a guard and a tackle on the Whitman team who was being recruited by Cornell University, remained unconscious at the hospital yesterday, according to his father, L. Stanley Peek.

The elder Peek said a neurosurgeon who examined his son said the prognosis was good, but he did not know what the injuries would do to his son's college football career. "We're not worried about football now. We just want him to get his faculties back," Peek said.

Meanwhile, at the Quinn home, Ella Quinn could talk of nothing but her son's football record and how proud she is "of what Ben was about." She took calls from friends and opened telegrams.

One of them was from the coach and team at Virginia Tech. It read: "Our depest sympathy about Ben."