Decatur Student Mourned After Highway Death

WEST OCEAN CITY – Tragedy struck last weekend when a 16-year-old Stephen Decatur High School student was struck and killed on Route 50 just east of the western end of the bridge, closing the span in both directions for several hours during the height of the resort’s Cruisin’ event.

Shortly before 8 p.m. last Saturday, Matthew B. Barcase, a sophomore at Decatur, was struck by a 2008 Jeep Wrangler as he attempted to cross Route 50 just east of Inlet Isle Lane in West Ocean City.

A preliminary investigation revealed Barcase was attempting to cross Route 50 from north to south, possibly as part of a larger group. According to police reports, Barcase successfully crossed the westbound lanes of Route 50 and reached the center median. Preliminary witness testimony indicates the possibility Barcase stumbled upon reaching the median and may have fallen into the center eastbound lane of Route 50 and into the path of the oncoming Jeep driven by Luis A. Rodriguez, 29, of Massapequa Park, N.Y.

Just after 8 p.m. on Saturday, Maryland State Police from the Berlin barrack were dispatched to the accident scene. Upon making contact with Rodriguez, the first-arriving troopers detected signs indicating he may have been operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Further investigation led to his arrest for driving under the influence. A breath-alcohol content test was administered at the MSP Berlin barrack the results have which have not been published, suffice it to say the suspect was over the legal limit.

Barcase was transported to Atlantic General Hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

In the aftermath of the accident, the bridge was closed in both directions for at least four hours during the height of a busy May weekend highlighted by Ocean City’s annual Cruisin’ event.

The MSP CRASH team responded to the scene to investigate the accident. The reconstruction team will be conducting a detailed crash investigation, the results of which will be forwarded to the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office for review and consideration of additional charges against Rodriguez. In the meantime, Rodriguez has been charged with driving under the influence, driving under the influence per se and driving while impaired. He was taken before a District Court Commissioner and ordered held on a $5,000 bond. He was later released on Sunday, May 17, after posting bond.

Not long after the accident, the news a local teen had been struck and killed had already seeped out into the community.

Decatur Principal Lou Taylor said this week he was notified of the tragedy on Saturday night and met with students and friends at the Ocean City firehouse. Early Monday morning, Taylor made an announcement to Decatur’s student body after an administrative staff meeting, although most of the students and the Seahawk family already knew of the tragedy. The school made available additional counselors and clergy to help students with their grief.

“It’s a tragic thing anytime you lose a student,” he said. “It’s a sad and somber time and it’s something you’re never prepared for. You hope it never happens, but the reality is, tragedies occur. You hope you never get that phone call.”

For Taylor and the Decatur family, that call has come three times since last summer. In late August, a would-be Decatur senior was killed when her vehicle left the roadway on Route 50 near its intersection with Route 589 just before the start of the school year. In December, another Decatur student died in an undisclosed incident.

“You pray you never lose a student but we’ve lost three since the beginning of the year,” he said. “As principal, part of my job is to keep everybody focused and moving forward, and sometimes I really have to rely on my own faith to do that. There is no college degree that can prepare you for this part of the job. I feel like I lost one of my own kids because, really, Decatur is like one big family.”

Funeral services for Barcase were held yesterday. Among others, he is survived by his parents, Mark J. and Cindy A. Barcase Wittmyer, and a brother, Johnny A.J. Barcase. In his published obituary, family described him as, “a kind, loving, polite and happy person with a beautiful smile. He loved life, his family and friends the most.”