BY ART BUKOWSKI
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jeremy D. Schwierking's roommate still can't believe it.
Schwierking, 18, died in a crash along East Front Street early Saturday. The former Rapid City resident who recently moved to Traverse City stole an idling cab on Union Street and sped off before he crashed the vehicle.
His decision to steal the cab and drive recklessly — police said he barrelled down Grandview Parkway onto East Front at more than 60 miles per hour without a seatbelt — was "very out of character," roommate Anthony Rodriguez said.
"He wasn't that type of person," Rodriguez said. "He liked to party and have a good time, but he was never the one to break the law."
The incident happened after 2 a.m. Saturday.
A cab driver came to the 100 block of South Union Street on a call and left his cab idling on the street.
"He could not find the individual who called for a ride, so he walks inside one of the businesses momentarily to see if he could find his fare," Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said. "Upon turning around, he noticed a young man climbing into his cab."
The driver tried to get Schwierking out, but he wasn't successful.
"The young man put the car in drive and started driving down Union Street," Heffner said. "The cab driver grabbed a hold of the cab and tried running next to it, pounding on the window trying to get him to stop ... once he realized he wasn't going to stop and his speed was increasing, the cab driver let go."
Responding police soon learned a cab crashed near the Holiday Inn on Front Street. Schwierking, the cab's lone occupant, crashed into a utility pole and was thrown from the vehicle.
He had no driver's license, cell phone or any other way for police to identify him, so officers released a statement with Schwierking's description in hopes that someone knew who he was.
"It's uncommon that we have to request the public's help in identifying someone," Heffner said.
Someone eventually recognized Schwierking from the description and contacted his family, who contacted police.
Schwierking was a self-described "hippie" with a great personality, Rodriguez said.
"He was a very caring person. A free spirit, really," he said. "You could trust him with anything, he was always there to talk to everyone."
He had been drinking alcohol at his home in the Town and Country mobile home park off Barlow Street, but left sometime around midnight to find a friend, Rodriguez said.
He didn't mention going to Union Street and gave no firm indication where he was going, and Rodriguez isn't aware of him being on Union Street with anyone he knew.
His friends are still trying to wrap their minds around what happened, Rodriguez said.
"No one believed it," he said. "Everyone was shocked."
Schwierking's family declined comment.
Authorities are waiting on toxicology reports to find out more about Schwierking's physical state at the time of the incident, Heffner said, but his thought process might never be known.
"We might not be able to understand why he felt the need to jump in that cab and take off," he said.
Visitation for friends and family will take place on Thursday from 4 until 7 p.m. at Reynolds Jonkhoff Funeral Home.
Funeral services will take place at the funeral home, on Friday at 2 p.m.