A son, a brother and a computer engineer, Christopher Di Giorgio would have been 23, this Wednesday, Sept. 13. But a freak traffic accident on Walney Road robbed him of this birthday and all others and plunged his family into mourning.
He died Sept. 2 in a motorcycle accident, but none of the stereotypes that come to mind apply to him. He wasn't speeding, drinking or on drugs. He wore a helmet and was a safe and careful driver — and his mother was following right behind him in a car.
"He has always been responsible," said his father, Emilio, of Chantilly's Waverly Crossing community. "He took safety courses and was always a cautious driver. He never even got a speeding ticket."
On Sept. 2, shortly before 3 p.m., Christopher was traveling south on Walney Road on his Harley-Davidson custom Sportster en route to a car dealership in Manassas.
"We were on our way to drop off his motorcycle there," said his mother, Rosalie. "A part had come in, and they were going to service his motorcycle. I was driving in our car behind him so I could bring him back home."
At one point, Walney dips way down and then curves upward, and drivers can't see the road above them. Tragically, as Christopher emerged from the dip, he instantly — and unexpectedly — encountered a car perpendicular to him, across the road, and had no time to avoid it.
His motorcycle struck the passenger side of a 2006 Dodge Stratus driven by a Clifton woman. "She was on her way to a wedding, off of Walney, and had missed her turn," said Rosalie. "She'd pulled into a driveway to turn around."
As she pulled out into Walney again, her vehicle and Christopher's motorcycle collided. Said Emilio: "He couldn't see her until he turned the corner and came up out of the dip, and she couldn't see him, either."
Christopher's mother saw the crash as soon as she drove up the curve.
"I saw a car in the middle of the road and the motorcycle on the road," she said. "Christopher looked like he was trying to get up, and I told him not to move. I kept yelling, 'Call an ambulance, call 911.' And I kept calling his name and telling him not to leave me."
The woman's daughter called 911, and Christopher was Medivaced to Inova Fairfax Hospital with severe internal injuries. But he went into coronary arrest in the helicopter and died en route.
A military family — Emilio is a retired Army colonel — the Di Giorgios lived all over the country, as well as overseas, before settling down in Chantilly in 1994. Son Peter, 27, is an Army captain and helicopter pilot stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., and son David, 15, is a sophomore at Chantilly High.
Christopher was born in New York City and moved with his family to Kansas; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; California and Oklahoma before coming to Virginia. In kindergarten and first grade, he attended the Saudi Arabia International School. Said his father: "He was in Cub Scouts then and I was his den leader."
Locally, he attended Brookfield Elementary in sixth grade and then Rocky Run Middle School. While at Rocky Run, he was on a winning CYA travel soccer team. He graduated from Chantilly High in 2001 and, while there, he became interested in track and ran cross-country.
"He enjoyed doing distance running," said Rosalie. "His hero was Alan Webb," added Emilio. "Christopher was also a Boy Scout in Troop 146 which met at St. Timothy, and he earned his Eagle Scout badge."
"He also liked to build things," said David. "He built me my first computer, and it worked really well. He was a great brother and we did a lot of things together; we played video games and went out to movies together."
Christopher also had a kind and caring heart. Said Emilio: "When I couldn't go to David's Boy Scout camp one summer, he went in my stead." His mother described Christopher as easygoing, yet sensitive to other people's needs — often staying in the background so others could shine.
"He was modest, respectful and had a piercing sense of humor," said Emilio. "He was a disciplined individual, helpful to others. He'd see things that needed to be done and do them. And he was a principled person really dedicated to his work."
He also had lots of friends, including Ethan Coffey, whom he'd known since sixth grade, and David Holt, a close friend from high school and his college roommate. He also lifted weights with a neighborhood buddy, Jeff Lohr.
Christopher graduated from Virginia Tech in 2005 with a bachelor's in computer engineering. "He took elective courses in computers at The Chantilly Academy, and that's where the spark was lit for his love of computers," said his mother.
He loved electronics and robotics and was a member of the Robotics Club at Virginia Tech. "He was one of about 30 or so Chantilly students who were there at the time," said Rosalie. And he participated in a robotics competition in college.
"Microsoft sponsored them in his sophomore year and they went to Nassau in the Bahamas and made a respectable showing," said Emilio. "And Christopher also mentored a local, high-school robotics club in Blacksburg."
"The kid was amazing," said Rosalie. "I don't know when he found the time." He had a solid B average and, in his senior year at Virginia Tech, he made the Dean's List. Said his mother: "He worked really hard to achieve that; he was just phenomenal."
In addition, during summers — as a senior in high school and all through college — Christopher worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior in the Division of Mineral Management doing IT support. He also worked a year as an intern at his father's company, Computer Sciences Corp. in Arlington.
He was also certified in CISCO (fiber-optic cabling) and took individuals' blueprints and converted them to CAD-cam drawings — electronic versions of architectural drawings. "He had a résumé written while he was in high school," said Emilio. "People called to give him job offers and would then find out he was only 17."
Actually, Christopher was always industrious and mature beyond his age. "In his early years in high school, he used to mow lawns in the neighborhood," said his father. "And he was in such demand that he hired other boys to help him do the work. He was off to a good start in life."
After graduating from college, he was offered a job with Intel Corp. in California, but instead accepted one from General Dynamics Land Systems in Woodbridge as a computer engineer. He started in July 2005 and was working on the electronics of the Marine Corps amphibious landing craft.
"He did a lot of traveling, especially to San Diego; Camp Lejeune, N.C. and Twentynine Palms, Calif.," said Emilio. "And he spent 10 days at sea on the USS Cleveland. He also got his scuba certification and did free-fall parachute jumping."
Christopher was also saving his money to buy a house. His only extravagances, said Emilio, were his computers and his Harley: "He was very careful with his motorcycle and never wanted to get a scratch on it." He usually rode with older people and was just getting into touring.
The last four weeks of his life, he'd been working at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds Test Center in Maryland. And in November, he was scheduled to go to Delta Junction, Alaska, near the North Pole. Explained Rosalie: "He tested the amphibious vehicle under different conditions to see how it would react to different temperatures and environments."
"His plan was to get his masters in the same field, or robotics, work for General Dynamics and pursue his interest in robotics," said Emilio. "We were extremely proud of him," said Rosalie. Added his father: "We were watching him fulfill his dreams."
Instead, last Wednesday, Sept. 6, a Mass of Christian Burial was said for Christopher at St. Timothy Catholic Church. Father Edward Tewes, the attending chaplain at Inova Fairfax Hospital, officiated. Burial was at Fairfax Memorial Park. Contributions may be made to the Catholic Relief Fund or the Boy Scouts of America; Troop 146 hopes to raise $1,000 to donate in Christopher's name.
Besides his immediate family, he's also survived by his grandparents, Anna and Pietro Ferdinandi, and Pietro Di Giorgio, all of New York. Emilio's mother, Maria Giovanna, died when Christopher was 11 months old. "He never got to know her," said Rosalie. "But now his grandmother will take care of him for me."
Whenever people ask if there's anything they can do for the family, Rosalie replies, "Just remember Christopher; keep his memory alive." And her faith helps her cope. "I'm sure he's with God," she said. "There is a reason why this happened. We have our other sons and each other, and life goes on, but we will miss him. We will never forget him."
Christopher had come home, the Thursday before Labor Day, to spend the long weekend with his family. Hours before he died, he and his father talked about his future. "I guess that was presumptuous," said Emilio. "[Later], I got a phone call from Rosalie that there'd been a terrible accident."
"I was with him when he was born and I was with him when he died," said his mother. "At least, I got to hold him."