HEALDSBURG, Calif. - Tragedy struck a North Bay family over the weekend, when their college-student son was struck and killed by an alleged DUI driver, an off-duty New York cop.
"His smile hasn't left my mind yet, " Dominic Merlo told KTVU, speaking of 21 year old Andrew "Drew" Esquivel, his best friend and former classmate at Healdsburg High School.
Esquivel was struck on a Brooklyn sidewalk by a Dodge Durango that plowed into him and and three friends.
His friends survived, with major injuries, but Esquivel was killed.
"We all call each other brothers and that's still how we feel," said another close friend
Wyatt Hoagland, gathered on the high school campus to plan a vigil for Esquivel later this week.
"The fact that he's gone, it's hard to grasp," said friend Anthony Merlo. "It doesn't come all at once, it's coming on us in waves, and anger is definitely in there."
Anger, because the 28 year old man who drove up on the curb and struck the group, was visibly intoxicated, witnesses said.
He was to report for his police duties only a few hours later. NYPD has suspended him from duty, and he is facing manslaughter charges.
"Drew wasn't doing anything wrong, he was walking home safely," said Dominic Merlo somberly, "after going out, he was doing the right thing, not driving, and someone else didn't."
Esquivel was living in Manhattan while working at a software firm as a summer intern. Next fall, he would have begun his senior year at MIT, as a computer science major on a full academic scholarship, and also captain of the college wrestling team.
"Extremely bright, extremely personable, and always giving of his time, " high school coach Scott Weidemier told KTVU, recalling his years working with Esquivel in Healdsburg. "Eagle scout, straight A's, I really don't know how he managed to do it all, " marveled Weidemier, " and this is such a waste. To be killed by a drunk driver, everybody is in complete shock about it. It's just a complete waste."
Esquivel's friends are planning a vigil for Drew on Thursday evening. They have set up a memorial Facebook page "Celebrating Drew Esquivel" with vigil details to follow.
Drew has two younger sisters, one in college and the other at Healdsburg High. His father Andy is an insurance agent in town, who is also a major booster to youth wrestling.
He and Drew's mother, Sue, were away on a backpacking trip, and unreachable by phone when the crash happened, and only learned of it when a friend hiked in to inform them.
"No parent should have to bury their child," declared Hoagland, "ever, no matter what the circumstances, no parent should have to go through that."
"Drew was always super easy to talk to," chimed in friend Ian Black, "and always a great friend, always so happy, and a joy to be around."
Growing up, friends say, everyone knew Drew was special. When he turned down Stanford University and several Ivy League colleges to attend MIT, his friends say he was amazingly humble.
"He had an amazing brain, definitely the smartest out of all of us," smiled Hoagland, but even more remarkable, his gifts never got in the way of being a great guy.
"That's what made him so relatable, that he didn't take himself seriously," concluded Dominic, "and he is only going to live through our lives now. We've just got to make sure we live the best lives we can, for him."