The Gonzaga College High School football team was having its pregame walk-through Saturday morning when the text messages started arriving.
They were about Dom, the guy who took such joy in making his friends laugh, the senior who was more than happy to take a freshman under his wing.
Dominik Pettey, 17, had been killed in an early morning car accident.
“Some people broke down immediately,” said linebacker Sean Fitzgerald, 17. “Others just didn’t believe it.”
Pettey, who played on the school’s hockey team, and four others were in a disabled vehicle parked on the side of the Capital Beltway south of Persimmon Tree Road in Montgomery County when they were struck by another vehicle. Pettey was pronounced dead at the scene.
Maryland State Police said Margaret Christine Baisely, 24, of Rockville, was driving a 2013 Jeep Compass about 2 a.m. when she crashed into the rear of a 2009 Honda Accord stopped on the right shoulder of the highway.
Baisley, who was taken to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, showed signs of being impaired, and an investigation of the crash is continuing, police said. Andrew Frederick May, 19, the driver of the Honda in which Pettey was riding, and three passengers were also taken to area hospitals. Police said they did not have updated information on their conditions.
Pettey’s death roiled the tight-knit, all-boys Jesuit school located a few blocks from Union Station.
“The entire Gonzaga High School community is deeply grieved by the tragic death of one of our seniors,” the Rev. Stephen W. Planning, the school president, said in a statement. “Dom was a beloved student, hockey player, and friend to all. We ask for prayers for the Pettey family as well as for the other boys injured in this terrible accident.”
Friends, teammates and classmates took to social media sites to remember Pettey as a talented hockey player and kindhearted friend with an infectious smile.
Nate Jackson, who coached Pettey for three years, remembered him scoring the first goal of a championship game, setting the pace for his team’s victory. Pettey, who played forward for Gonzaga, also scored the game-winning goal in a league championship game, his former coach said.
“He was an important piece of our success over the last three years,” Jackson said. During his time on the team, Gonzaga won the league championship and last year went undefeated, Jackson said. Off the ice, Jackson said Pettey was a “humorous, bright, funny kid . . . who was hardworking and had a good attitude. It would be hard to find someone who didn’t like him.”
When he was sidelined while recuperating from appendix surgery during the Christmas holiday, Pettey would come watch his teammates.
“He was cheering everybody on,” Jackson said. “He was frail, but he was there. He was definitely part of the family.”
Andrew Skibbie, 14, a freshman at Gonzaga, said he will remember Pettey as an upperclassman who took him under his wing. Pettey drove him to school every day, and the two constantly listened to songs such as “Love Shack” and “Stairway to Heaven,” and artists such as the Beastie Boys and the Rolling Stones during the ride. “He was a great kid,” Skibbie said. “Even though I was younger than him, he treated me like a friend.”
Many students pointed out how Pettey found joy in making other people laugh. “Dom was always a great friend and was a funny guy,” Mark Anstead, 19, a Gonzaga graduate, said in an e-mail. “No matter the situation he was always cracking jokes and loved making people laugh.” Michael Lackey, 17, who grew up playing hockey with Pettey, said his friend was “always optimistic, always smiling.”
“I never saw him upset,” said Lackey, who moved to Michigan to play for the U.S. Under-17 team but stayed in touch with Pettey. “If you were having a bad day, you’d hang out with him and he’d make you feel 100 percent better.
“I’m not just saying this; he was the nicest kid I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
One student organized a prayer service at St. Aloysius Church, which is next to the school, Fitzgerald said. About 100 people attended, he said. The team then had a choice to make: Should they play their scheduled game against Bishop McNamara High School on Saturday afternoon?
“Dom was one of the biggest supporters of our football team,” Fitzgerald said. ”The players decided that he would have wanted us to play. . . . We had to win for him.”
And they did.