The devil may have taken Skylar Marion away, his father says, but God had to figure out how to spread him around.
Skylar, a 15-year-old Chesapeake High School freshman who loved to tinker with bicycles and spend time outdoors, was killed in a hit-and-run just a quarter-mile from his home in Pasadena in April. The driver of the vehicle that hit him has yet to be found.
But in a turn of events that surprised two families in the tight-knit Pasadena community, part of Skylar will continue to live on. His heart, transplanted into the body of an ailing friend, will bind two families together for the rest of their lives.
As Skylar lay in a coma at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Mike Marion, his father, got word that another 15-year-old in the community needed a heart transplant. His son could not respond, but Marion sat by his bedside and spoke.
"I asked him, can we have his heart?" Marion recalled. "And a weight came off, so I took that as an OK."
On the evening of April 12, Skylar left his house with two friends to go to a nearby store. They walked along Mountain Road, infamous for its lack of sidewalks and frequent car crashes. Skylar was struck from behind near the intersection with Alvin Road, while one of his friends suffered less serious injuries.
The driver fled the scene, but one of Skylar's friends caught a glimpse of the SUV as it sped away — a dark-colored Ford Expedition, 1997 to 2002, with damage to the hood and passenger side from the impact. The family, working with Metro Crime Stoppers, is offering a $4,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the driver.
With the driver at large, peace is elusive for Mike Marion, who raised his three boys alone after their mother died a decade ago. But he lights up when he talks to Denise Wilkerson, whose son's life was saved with Skylar's heart.
Kyle Wilkerson and Skylar were buddies at Chesapeake High who liked to ride bikes together, though their parents had never met until the heart transplant. Kyle had been in the hospital since February with genetic idiopathic cardiomyopathy, which can be fatal.
Denise Wilkerson is grateful her son will survive, as he had been low on the transplant list before Marion indicated he wanted Kyle to get his son's heart. But getting the organ through the death of another teenager was "bittersweet," she said.
"That's the hard part for any parent to pray for," she said quietly.
Her family heard through the grapevine about the Chesapeake High student who was badly injured, but "the thought never crossed our minds" that the boy could end up being Kyle's heart donor.
"Do you know how rare it is to get a match?" she asked. "It's like a 30,000-to-1 chance."
On Sunday, Wilkerson and Marion shared their story with reporters in a Pasadena gym, where well-wishers took a spin class to donate money to the reward fund to find the hit-and-run driver. The two swapped stories about their sons' shared love of bicycles and how both boys would occasionally annoy their parents by leaving tools scattered around the house.
Kyle is still coming to terms with the experience, Denise Wilkerson said.
"It's hard to get a 15-year-old to understand that it's God's plan," she said, occasionally wiping away tears. "'No one should die like that,' he said."
Meanwhile, Marion is angry at the unknown hit-and-run driver, and has outfitted his van with a giant sign pleading with anyone who knows anything to come forward. A local resident set up his lighted sign truck nearby to ask for help, too, one of many gestures from members of the community.
Anne Arundel County police are actively investigating the case.
"Somebody knows something, so hopefully somebody comes forward," said Lt. T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.
Skylar's brothers, Sam, 14, and Zachary, Skylar's identical twin, are taking the death hard, said their father, who worries about Zachary in particular.
Finding the driver, Marion said, will bring the family closure.
"He didn't even have a chance to fight," said Marion, who wore a green wristband that said "Donate Life." "The person who hit him is just a coward. They're living, they're breathing, they're worried about turning themselves in. Take responsibility. Give Skylar some peace."
"You got to wonder how they sleep at night," Wilkerson added.
Both parents want to see changes to Mountain Road, especially the addition of sidewalks. It is a heavily used street, they said, but it is frequently clogged.
More than 20 people have been killed along the 11-mile roadway since the early 1990s, many of them in their teens.
With only one way out of the dead-end road, Marion must pass his son's roadside memorial every day.
Giving away his son's organs seemed the right thing to do considering Skylar's generous nature, Marion said. Four people, including Kyle, received vital organs, while another person will be able to see again with the gift of Skylar's eyes, Marion said.
The families finally met outside Shock Trauma after the transplant, with many tears and hugs, said Dawn Caley, Skylar's aunt.
"I told Denise, she's like a celebrity to us," Caley said, as Wilkerson indicated she felt the same way.
Sometime in the future, Marion said, they will host a family reunion. Wilkerson, her son Kyle, and their entire clan are invited.
Anyone with information about the hit-and-run that killed Skylar Marion is asked to call Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7LOCKUP.
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