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'Once You Met Him ... He Was Your Friend'

Tyler Bentley died in a car crash Thursday, Nov. 24.

On Monday, Nov. 28, the day that would have been Jonathan Tyler Bentley's 19th birthday, family members remembered his kind heart and generous smile, and shared stories about the W.T. Woodson graduate's mischievous sense of humor and genuine friendliness.

"Once you met him, he was your friend," said Bob Bentley, Tyler's father.

Bentley, who went by the name Tyler, died in the early morning hours Thursday, Nov. 24, when a 1998 Chevrolet pickup truck struck the rear end of the 1993 Honda Accord Bentley was riding in with two friends, according to Fairfax County police reports. At 12:18 a.m., the Honda was stopped at a red light on eastbound Arlington Boulevard and Annandale Road when the truck, driven by Pablo Cruz, 31, of the 3600 block of 16th St. in Washington, D.C., struck the car, killing Bentley instantly and injuring the two other passengers. Cruz was driving under the influence of alcohol, said Officer Courtney Young, a Fairfax County Police public information officer.

A Fairfax County Police officer, who was also at the red light and saw the entire incident, arrested Cruz on the spot for aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, said Officer Bud Walker, a police spokesperson. Cruz and the other two passengers in the Honda went to Inova Fairfax Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, said Walker, and Cruz is now being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.

Tyler Bentley’s death makes it even more necessary for young people to be aware of the dangers of drunk driving, said his father. "Young people must use their voices in changing laws and doing whatever they need to do to make it as hard as possible for [drunk drivers]," said Bob Bentley.

Tyler Bentley, who graduated from Woodson last June and was studying at Northern Virginia Community College, left a lasting impression on everyone he met with his sharp sense of humor and large smile, said mother Nancy Bentley. He met someone once and became permanent friends, she said, keeping in touch with everyone from friends he met years ago on an Alaska cruise to teachers from Olde Creek Elementary School.

Tyler's Instant Messenger list must have had over 200 names on it, said Bob Bentley.

"I couldn’t even begin to guess how many kids knew him," he said.

ALTHOUGH TYLER Bentley ran cross country while at Woodson, his deep love for sports began when he was a child. His athletic prowess extended from rock climbing to baseball to basketball, said Bob Bentley. He and his father golfed and bowled together as well; Tyler proving to be an exceptionally skilled golfer whose score was in the 90s.

"He was starting to beat me," said Bob Bentley. "It was tough to take, but you know. It was all right."

Tyler Bentley was a fearless athlete who, on a whitewater rafting trip a decade ago, braved a Class 5 rapid and managed to stay in the raft with his father even when everyone else, including the guide, fell out.

"Tyler had five surgeries before he was 2 1/2 years old," said Bob Bentley. "He had some health problems, but he never let it get him down ... he was a little daredevil."

Tyler Bentley also shared a love of roller coasters with his father and older brother Jason, 29. When he was 7, the whole family went to Disney World and got on the Splash Mountain ride. Bob Bentley encouraged his youngest son to try and put one hand in the air during the steep drop, he said, but the photos taken during the ride revealed young Tyler flinging both hands in the air as the roller coaster car plummeted downward.

Aside from sports, traveling was another favorite activity of Tyler Bentley's, said his mother.

"He would tell us, 'Pull over, look at the scenery, isn’t that neat?'" said Nancy Bentley, describing a vacation that took the family out West several years ago. "It wasn't, 'Are we there yet?' … He was interested in everything around him."

But family remained the most important thing to Tyler, said his parents.

Bobbie Long, Nancy Bentley's mother and Tyler's grandmother, remembered an essay he wrote while a sophomore in high school.

"He brought me a copy," said Long, who lives in Bedford, Pa. "I thought it showed Tyler’s feeling about family. He felt so safe when he came to my house. He enjoyed himself with his family."

Tyler also enjoyed a close relationship with Jason Bentley's son, Brandon. The 2-year-old was like the younger brother Tyler never had, said his parents.

No matter how old Tyler and his cousins were, said Long, they always got along, occasionally causing trouble. In a 1997 occurrence remembered notoriously by family members as "the watermelon incident," Tyler and his cousins were swimming in a river during a family picnic when they spotted a watermelon floating in the water, said aunt Ellen Berez. They proceeded to smash the watermelon against a rock, she said, prompting an outcry from the fruit's rightful owners, who were picnicking nearby.

Jason Bentley recalled how he would call home and Tyler would pretend to be his father, answering the phone the same way as Bob Bentley.

"He would play along with it so well," said Jason Bentley. "And then he would start to laugh, and I would be like, 'You little stinker.'"

ULTIMATELY, IT was Tyler Bentley's caring heart that defined him, said Nancy Bentley. Once, when Tyler was a seventh-grader at Frost Middle School, he went sledding and came across a girl who was stuck in a briar patch. He immediately went over to her and helped her out of the briars, she said.

"He had such a nice disposition," said Lila Bentley, Tyler's paternal grandmother, who lives in Connecticut. "He never said a mean word to anybody."

Long, who has difficulty balancing, said her grandson would always offer a shoulder to help her.

"It amazed you, some of the things he would pick up on," she said. Following the death of Tyler Bentley's uncle, she said, Tyler was the first one to ask his aunt to dance at a wedding. For his language requirement in high school, said his mother, Tyler learned sign language for no other reason than to be able to communicate with his friends who were deaf.

"We liked him as a person," said Nancy Bentley. "Of course, we loved him as a son, but he was a very nice person."

Tyler Bentley’s memorial service took place Tuesday, Nov. 29 at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church.