“I’ve never experienced a (more) heart-wrenching pain. I was more prepared to lose my grandparents, but you are never ready to lose your best friend,” said Brad Taylor, Matthew Hurlbutt’s roommate.
Life can be captured in a smile. According to family and friends at the memorial, Hurlbutt’s smile did just that.
“You are the kind of person that touches people in a way that impacts them their whole lives,” a friend wrote on Hurlbutt’s Facebook wall. “You could walk into a room and make everyone smile by just being around them … I believe you came into my life for a short time to show me what a truly beautiful person was.”
Before the proceedings began, teary-eyed spectators dabbed their faces with tissue, eyes fixed on Hurlbutt’s profile picture that portrayed his infectious smile beneath reflective aviator sunglasses.But laughter overshadowed intermittent crying throughout the memorial at Philips Hall in the Christopher Cohen Performing Arts Center Tuesday morning. Speakers maintained an upbeat tone through humorous anecdotes and the occasional joke because that is what Hurlbutt would’ve wanted, his sister Katilin Hurlbutt, 24, said.
“Life has to go on; stay happy,” she said. “We don’t want people to be sad; we want it to be a celebration.”
Hurlbutt’s friend Lucas Rossmerz organized the event. The environmental management and protection senior remembered Hurlbutt introducing himself as if he already knew him. “Do I know you?” Rossmerz asked as Hurlbutt sat in his favorite recliner. “I’m your checker at Albertsons,” Hurlbutt replied with a smile.
“The phrase we would use for Matt is ‘Do I know you?’ because he was always so happy to see someone he never met before,” said Tom Holmgren, a fellow industrial engineering junior who scheduled every class with Hurlbutt this quarter. “He was always so welcoming; it was unbelievable how someone you just met could bring you into his life so much. I guess that’s his legacy — touching people and changing their lives.”
Taylor, a former industrial technology student, spoke next — narrating a story that proved Hurlbutt was a ladies man. It was Taylor’s junior year of high school when he began a relationship with a new girlfriend. Hurlbutt bumped into him in the halls and shook Taylor’s hand. He immediately turned to Taylor’s new girlfriend and gave her the most “sexual, ridiculous, groping hug” he had ever seen. She loved him.
“He liked to flirt with all the girls I liked flirting with,” Taylor joked with an underlying serious tone.
What impressed Taylor was Hurlbutt’s resiliency after a mutual close friend of theirs died from cancer several years ago.
“After three days of mourning, I can’t recall a day that Matt wasn’t getting happier,” he said.
Hurlbutt was the epitome of selflessness, Taylor added.
“He was there for me every day, if I was hungry or ran out of money for that week he would help me out,” he said. “He was such a happy guy and spread so much good energy, I feel like I’m exploding with love and compassion. I’ve rekindled relationships that I’ve lost since his death. So many positive things coming from his death, it’s incredible, you know he’s watching over me somewhere.”
The 20-year-old industrial technology junior was struck by a Toyota Tacoma while walking on the 101 Highway near the Santa Rosa Street exit April 4. In a press release, CHP Investigating Officer Victor Sanchez said the driver was going about 65 mph and could not avoid hitting Hurlbutt. He was pronounced dead on the scene. Rossmerz was one of the last people to see him at the bars downtown.
“He basically drank too much; it happens a lot,” Taylor said. “Ask your friends, ‘When’s the last time you blacked out?’ They will say, ‘I don’t remember.’ You get disoriented, you start calling girls, start getting excited about the rest of the night and you forget to stop and look both ways.”
Kaitlin Hurlbutt said there were several dropped cell phone calls throughout the night. Someone would call and would ask, “Where are you?” Hurlbutt replied, “I don’t know where I am, I’m lost.”
“We’re guessing that’s probably how it happened,” she said. “He probably stumbled on and by the time he realized what had happened, it was too late.”
Rossmerz pleaded to students to never walk across the freeway.
“Never (cross the freeway), ever,” he said. “Tell their friends it is not funny, it is not a rush, it is (stupid) — especially if you are inebriated.”
Rossmerz is gathering signatures for a petition to make public transportation run later, which he said will help prevent future tragedies.
“Cab companies are under-cabbed, everyone knows this,” he said. “It takes an hour so kids start walking — we really need to make it accessible.”
Additionally, San Luis Obispo needs to provide forms of alternative entertainment to give Cal Poly students more options, Rossmerz said. He referenced a 1975 drug and alcohol survey that states the number one reason for drug and alcohol use by Cal Poly students is a lack of alternative activities.
“We don’t have batting cages, late night bowling; we don’t have any alternative activities other than to go the bars or to sit at home and hope not to get a noise violation, hope you don’t get a Drunk In Public,” Rossmerz said.
Several friends and family admitted it was a difficult situation to prevent.
Holmgren said people should stay positive and remember Hurlbutt with a smile. He had an aura about him, once you entered his world, nothing mattered, Holmgren said.
“He was like the light of our life,” Taylor said. “I feel like he partly died for me so that I could grow and be happier and learn from his life. As short as it was, he accomplished a lot and generated a lot of love.”