Joys of signing day overshadowed by ex-classmates tragic death

2/7/2013
BY FEDERICO MARTINEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It was supposed to be a moment of celebration: Seven of St. John’s Jesuit High School’s top student athletes gathered Wednesday to sign national letters of intent to play their chosen sports in college.

Drew Savage, left, and Jake Nachtrab, seniors at St. John’s Jesuit High School, talk about their friend and former classmate, Brian Hoeflinger of Ottawa Hills, after a national signing day event Wednesday.
Drew Savage, left, and Jake Nachtrab, seniors at St. John’s Jesuit High School, talk about their friend and former classmate, Brian Hoeflinger of Ottawa Hills, after a national signing day event Wednesday.

But, for some, the joy of accomplishment was overshadowed by the grief they felt over the death of one of their friends and former classmates who was killed in a car crash.

Brian Hoeflinger, 18, a senior at Ottawa Hills High School, was killed in a fiery crash Friday night when his southbound 2008 Pontiac G6 went off Edgehill Road and struck a tree near a bridge over the Ottawa River. Mr. Hoeflinger previously attended St. John’s Jesuit.

“Today is kind of a bittersweet day,” said senior Drew Savage, 18, moments after signing his letter of intent to run cross country and track at Ohio University this fall. “We’ll be going to college this fall to play sports and make new friends. But, he’ll never be able to do that. It’s a real tragedy.”

Also signing letters Wednesday were Matt Miller (Wisconsin), Brogan Roback (Eastern Michigan), and Tony Harper (Pittsburgh) to continue their football careers. Liam Allen (Toledo) and Jake Nachtrab (Bowling Green) signed as preferred walk-ons. Matt Almester (Oakland University) will play soccer.

Lucas County Coroner James Patrick said on Monday that Mr. Hoeflinger’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly double the legal limit for adult drivers.

Brian Hoeflinger
Brian Hoeflinger

According to initial police reports, the youth had attended a classmate’s birthday party at a residence on Brantford Road in Ottawa Hills before the accident.

Raymond Rodriquez, agent-in-charge of the Toledo District Office for the Ohio Investigative Unit, said his department is investigating the sequence of events that led to Mr. Hoeflinger’s death.

The youth was last seen by the friends between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and the crash happened at 11:50 p.m., authorities said.

The investigation is focusing on several issues, including where Mr. Hoeflinger had been, where he had been drinking, and who provided the alcohol.

After the information has been gathered, the agency will recommend whether charges should be brought against those involved, Mr. Rodriquez said.

Mr. Hoeflinger’s death weighed heavy at his former high school, where several student athletes were gathered in the school’s Iott Center, for a signing day ceremony that also attended by their friends, families, school officials, and media.

Despite the festive occasion, the mood was subdued.

The student athletes all wore small, blue ribbons on their shirts in honor of Mr. Hoeflinger, who had planned to attend the University of North Carolina and eventually become an orthodontist.

Two of the athletes, Mr. Savage and Mr. Nachtrab, also 18, who had attended school with Mr. Hoeflinger since kindergarten, had the message “RIP BH” written in ink on their hands.

Mr. Hoeflinger transferred to Ottawa High School this past fall, but the longtime friends still got together frequently to play basketball or to hang out. Prior to transferring to Ottawa Hills, he had told friends he wanted “a new experience before going off to college,” Mr. Savage said.

An excellent golfer, Mr. Hoeflinger’s friends described him as ambitious, goal-oriented, and determined in everything he did. But, what they’ll remember most is their friend’s sense of humor.

For example, at St. Joseph Catholic School in Sylvania, the three friends would often play jokes on adult recess monitors.

“At St. Joe’s we would do “tree runs,” Mr. Nachtrab said, as he laughed at the memory. “We’d hide behind the trees until the recess monitors freaked out because they couldn’t find us.”

The trick was to return to the school grounds without being caught. Mr. Hoeflinger would wait until the last possible moment before returning, his friends said.

The students said they don’t know what happened the night of Mr. Hoeflinger’s death. But, the result should be a sobering reminder to anyone who considers drinking and driving, they said.

“He was one of those people that you always knew was going to be a success in everything he did,” Mr. Savage said. “If it can happen to Brian, it can happen to anyone.”

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.