Brandyn Toone, left, said John Malvar was a “big skateboarder” who was on the swim team and played in a guitar ensemble. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

John Malvar was supposed to walk down the aisle with his Washington-Lee High School classmates at graduation in just over two weeks. Last Friday, he had gone to the prom. An Instagram photo shows him in a tuxedo, hamming for the camera.

The 18-year-old was in the “prime of his life,” his father said. Eager to go to college at Virginia Commonwealth University, eager to start working toward his goal of becoming a nurse.

“He was a good kid,” said his father, George Malvar. “He’s always smiling, and everybody liked him.”

On Tuesday, John Malvar got on a skateboard and held on to a pickup truck driven by a friend. In the 300 block of South Highland Street in Arlington County, police said, the young man lost his grip and fell. He suffered “significant head trauma” and later was pronounced dead at an area hospital, police said.

“All this, it happened so quickly, I couldn’t believe it,” George Malvar said. “God works in strange ways.”

John Malvar (Arlington County Public Schools)

Arlington police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said investigators are looking into how fast the truck was going and what caused Malvar to lose his grip. He said Malvar was holding on to the truck just behind the driver’s side window. Maybe the skateboard ran over something in the road, Sternbeck said. Authorities also were looking into whether Malvar was hit by the truck after he fell.

Sternbeck did not immediately identify the driver of the truck. He said that police planned to cite the 17-year-old for reckless driving and that it was possible more-
serious charges could follow. Investigators also were conducting a blood test to determine whether the driver had been drinking.

Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said that both Malvar and the driver of the truck were dual-enrolled at Washington-Lee High School and Arlington Career Center, which offers vocational and technical programs. The 17-year-old, he said, is a junior. The principals of the two schools sent a letter to parents Tuesday afternoon informing them of the accident. Bellavia said counselors would be available at both schools to help students who know the two teenagers.

News of Malvar’s death spread rapidly on Twitter, and some friends responded angrily to those who called into question his riding the skateboard while holding on to the truck — a not-so-recent phenomenon some have dubbed “skitching.” Online and in person, however, most of those who knew Malvar preferred to reflect on the promising young life that was cut short.

“He was really, really one of the most genuinely nice people,” said classmate Brittany O’Grady, 17. “All of us just love him. I hope this situation doesn’t make people think this is who he is. Things happen. We’re teenagers and we do things we regret.”

Brandyn Toone, 18, said Malvar was a “big skateboarder” who was on the swim team and played in a guitar ensemble. He said Malvar had been doing ride-alongs with ambulance crews and hoped to take an exam to become an emergency medical techniciansoon.

“He’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” Toone said.

There were also words of compassion expressed online for the driver of the truck. “Nobody is to blame, only love and compassion,” one young man tweeted.

On his Twitter feed, Malvar wrote of the things many teenagers would: watching “Forrest Gump” in government class, a high school band trip and “Breaking the bank” for prom. On Mother’s Day, he posted, “For my mom :) Happy Mothers Day!,” with a link to a picture of flowers.

George Malvar said his son grew up in Arlington, where the two of them lived together. John Malvar’s mother died some time ago and his older sister lives in Washington state, his father said.

George Malvar said his son had just gone to prom Friday, and he was getting ready to start classes at the university in August.

Sternbeck said it is dangerous and illegal to “attempt to hold on to a vehicle,” no matter if you are on a “skateboard, bicycle, roller blades, anything.”

“You can see the potential results,” he said.

Still, Sternbeck said, it is not something police see often. He said the death was the first incident he could recall of “somebody attempting to ride a skateboard while holding on to a vehicle.”

“Absolutely, we wouldn’t advise anybody to do that,” he said.

George Malvar said he had few details about the incident that took his son’s life. “He slipped, I think, and he fell and he hit his head on the pavement.”

“They’re preparing for graduation,” George Malvar said, “and the prime of his life, he’s taken away with an accident.”

Jennifer Jenkins and Michael Alison Chandler contributed to this report.