2004-02-20 / Front Page

Questions Surround Early Morning Crash

Two Childhood Friends Lose Their Lives
By Brian Magoolaghan
Questions Surround Early Morning Crash Two Childhood Friends Lose Their Lives By Brian Magoolaghan

Bryan Baxter was driving this 2001 Lexus when he lost control and struck M.S. 180 going about 70 mph. Baxter and Christopher Hummel were killed in the accident.Bryan Baxter was driving this 2001 Lexus when he lost control and struck M.S. 180 going about 70 mph. Baxter and Christopher Hummel were killed in the accident.

The families of the young men killed in a violent car crash last Sunday morning struggled with unanswer ed questions and made plans to lay the two 23-year-olds to rest this week.

"Nobody is sure what the hell happened," Robert Bax ter, the father of driver Brian J. Baxter, told The Wave from his East Rockaway home.

"Bryan was a good kid," Robert said of his son - an East Rockaway High School graduate and former High School football player.

"All I know is that my son is dead," said Aileen Hummel, passenger Christopher S. Hum mel's mother, as she held back tears. "My son was a wonderful young man with all the qualities a mother could want."

Bryan and Christopher, both of East Rockaway, were speeding west-bound on Rock away Freeway at about 7 a.m. last Sunday when Baxter apparently lost control. The car became airborne, jumped the curb and slammed into the concrete foundation of M.S. 180 near Beach 104 Street, police said.

Baxter, who had no license, was driving Christopher's 2001 Lexus IS300 registered to Christopher's mother. The Lexus was a sporty, rear wheel drive, high performance vehicle loaded with modern safety features.

They were both wearing seat belts, several airbags deployed in the crash and there was no evidence that Bryan had been using drugs or alcohol - but the car was no match for the school's unyielding foundation, police said. The car was going nearly 70 mph when it struck the wall, according to a police estimate.

The first officers to arrive - responding within minutes - found the young men severely injured and unconscious. Bryan, who was pinned be hind the wheel, was pronounced dead at the scene. Christ opher was taken by EMS to Peninsula General Hospital where he was pro-nounced dead less than four hours later.

Robert Baxter said the two childhood friends, who knew each other since elementary school, dropped off a third passenger, another friend, in Rockaway sometime before the accident. That friend may be the key to the family's unanswered questions, in the days to come, Robert said.

After that stop, Bryan and Christopher may have been headed to visit a different friend somewhere in the western end of the peninsula, Robert speculated. The young men had been out since Satur day night.

"It was so late. Why weren't they home?" Robert asked remorsefully - remembering how he talked with his son "a million times" about safe driv-ing.

"I wish my son could tell me what he was doing there," Aileen Hummel said, who added that she was unaware that Bryan and Christopher were in Rock away to drop someone off.

Bryan, who was working for a Nassau County awning company, was an experienced driver who, despite having no license, drove his father's van and other friend's vehicles, Robert said.

Bryan might have fallen asleep at the wheel, he may have been consciously going too fast and lost control or he also might have been driving because his friend was unable, Robert speculated.

The crash left fragments from the Lexus strewn along the school's southeast corner. All but a piece of the bumper, wrapped around part of an iron fence that was downed in the accident, was indistinguishable. Bits of plastic and glass were thrown more than 60 feet in the direction the car was headed.

Friends of Bryan and Christ o pher left flowers at the scene on Monday - and inspected the roadway in search of an explanation. They found nothing to indicate why their friend who they considered "a good driver" would lose control, Robert said.

The section of Rock away Free way lead ing up to the school is level and void of the bumps and monster potholes that are common on city streets.

Christopher worked for a health supplement company and was a parttime actor, Aileen said. The avid sports fan - who had custom Oakland Athle tics license plates and also loved the Jacksonville Jaguars - had his Screen Actor's Guild card.

Bryan, who had plans to move to Phoenix, Arizona, where his best friend lives, is survived by his father; his mother, Janet; an older brother, Bobby; and a 13-year-old sister, Shan non. The Baxter family lived in Rockaway for more than 30 years before moving to East Rockaway, Robert said. Friends from as far as Florida and New Mexico traveled to New York to be with Bryan's family this week.

Christopher is survived by his mother; father, John; and his older brother, Michael.

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