He considered going into the military. He thought about studying culinary arts. Many thought he would end up in his father's construction business. But Robert Hunter III didn't do any of that. He drove an ATV over a 4-foot-high retaining wall. He was a 16-year-old junior at Wheeling Park High School when he died. "He had extremely huge brown eyes and long lashes a girl would envy," said his mother, Laura Hunter. "And he had a great smile. People say when he walked into a room, he lit it up." Robby was compassionate and caring, a loyal friend, his mother said. "He was a free spirit. He enjoyed having a good time. He wasn't an angel."
So when she opened the door to the police that night, she wasn't alarmed. "I joked with them, like, 'Well, what has he done now?' Then they told us he had passed."
He died close to midnight on a Saturday — March 13, 1999. "My other son was in a basketball tournament. We got home about 8:30 or 9. Robby had just been hanging out at home. About 10, he left with two other kids to watch a wrestling show at a friend's house."
The friend's father had an ATV. "Robby had been on it before, riding residential streets with no helmet. If he'd worn a helmet, he'd be alive today." Nearly 800 kids attended his funeral. He wore khaki cords and a sweater, something he wore when he dressed up. Under the sweater, he wore a muscle shirt. "We had to make sure he had on a sleeveless undershirt. He liked those."
For his burial, his brother gave him a gold chain. His father gave him a diamond ring. His mom contributed the teddy bear that played music in the crib when he was a baby. When she looks through class pictures given to him by friends, Laura Hunter thinks about the wasted potential. "He touched a lot of kids. The notes say, 'Thanks for helping me out that night,' or, 'Thanks for listening, even if it was 2 a.m.'" His younger brother, Nathan, still suffers, she said. "They were real close. It's been a bad three years for him. He's struggled with school. I don't think the school system understands." Nathan just made it through his 16th year, longer than his brother ever lived. It was a kind of milestone, Laura said. "He just turned 17, and boy, that was tough. We about smother that kid, and he's very protective toward me." She's adamant about the need for ATV restrictions. "It would help if they couldn't be ridden anywhere except where they should be, not on residential streets or highways, and always with helmets and protective gear. "ATVs are motorized vehicles and pretty powerful. There needs to be age limits, and parents and owners of these things need to be accountable. So do the companies that sell them." Reading about deaths of other children on ATVs makes her angry, she said. "In West Virginia alone, I don't know how many deaths I've read about since Robby. You already feel angry, alone, guilty and confused. Now you have to deal with the fact that the very vehicle that killed your child ... is killing other people's children, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends — and no one seems to care. No one seems to do anything to stop it. "Children are dying on these vehicles. They think they are invincible. They have no fear. They are children, and we need to take care of them." To contact staff writer Sandy Wells, use e-mail or call 348-5173.