Investigators and family members alike remained baffled Tuesday about why Sara C. Glaser, a college freshman and basketball standout, took her roommate's car without permission in the middle of the night and fatally crashed into a garbage truck in Lawrenceville while being chased by police.
Ms. Glaser, 18, was thrown from the wreckage. She was pronounced dead at UPMC Mercy at 8:25 a.m.
"We're all pretty sick," her mother, Cynthia Glaser, said. "I keep thinking I'm dreaming."
A 6-foot-tall basketball player born on Veterans Day and known for a terrific foul shot and artistic aspirations, Sara Glaser was in her first semester at La Roche College in McCandless. She was recalled fondly by her family, former coaches -- and the defense attorney who represented her in two criminal cases just this year.
"There's obviously two sides to Sara. That's not the girl that I knew. What a sweetheart she was here," said David Walchesky, who coached Ms. Glaser at Pittsburgh Allderdice last year and was unaware of her run-ins with police. "That is a shame, and Sara, to me, is one you would never forget as a coach."
Monday was a normal night, according to Cynthia Glaser, who dropped her daughter off around 10:30 p.m. at La Roche, where she was interested in graphic communications. The freshman stopped to hand in a resume at TGI Friday's before getting to work on a paper. Two hours later, the two spoke because Sara Glaser had forgotten a new sketchbook her mother had bought for her.
"When I got home I called her. ... I told her, 'You better get to bed.' She was with a group of people. She said, 'I will, I will. I'll talk to you later. Bye, Mom,' " Cynthia Glaser said.
The next time the phone rang in the Glaser household on South Fairmount Street, it was 4 a.m. On the other end was a resident advisor at La Roche calling to say that Sara Glaser had taken her roommate's car without asking and that the roommate had reported it stolen.
"Right when I hung up with her, [UPMC] Mercy called and told me they were sending police to see me," Cynthia Glaser said, "that she was in a terrible accident and she wasn't gonna last the night."
At that point, Pittsburgh police were already a half-hour into their crash investigation and an officer from the McCandless police department had just finished his call to La Roche's Bold Hall dormitory, where Sara Glaser's roommate, Hillary Dorian, had reported that her car keys and student identification had gone missing.
A student had awakened Ms. Dorian to tell her that he had seen Sara Glaser speeding from the parking lot in her car, according to Pittsburgh police Sgt. Daniel Connolly. Ms. Dorian contacted authorities at 3:10 a.m., he said.
Ms. Dorian could not be reached, and her parents declined comment.
About 20 minutes later, an officer spotted Ms. Glaser turning from the 16th Street Bridge onto Liberty Avenue with the Toyota Echo's headlights off. The officer, who did not know the car was reported stolen, followed and signaled for the driver to pull over as it headed toward the East End.
"She slows down to stop and then just guns it and goes. She's flying. Loses it on the bend at Herron and Liberty and strikes the garbage truck," Sgt. Connolly said.
The truck, headed inbound, was stopped at a red light. Ms. Glaser struck the driver's side, Sgt. Connolly said. He would not reveal the estimate of her speed, other than to say it was high, but added that the truck was the only thing between Ms. Glaser and a convenience store at the corner of Liberty and 34th Street.
"Had she not hit that garbage truck she would have gone right through the Quik Mart," Sgt. Connolly said.
Cynthia Glaser said her daughter had taken her car once on a joyride when she was 16, but that was the only time she was aware of such a situation. She said she never would have guessed that her daughter would speed away from police.
"She probably got scared of the police lights, and she treasured her license like a diamond bracelet. It probably dawned on her how stupid she was to do what she did," Cynthia Glaser said. "It sounds like she got scared and she gunned it to try to get away. She thought she did something wrong and was trying to get away."
But why, Mrs. Glaser wondered, was her daughter out and about in the middle of the night heading toward Friendship? Was she coming home for the sketchbook? For money or clothing? For another nibble at the Buffalo ranch pizza they had ordered?
Her boyfriend lived in Lincoln Place, Mrs. Glaser said, and she didn't really know anyone in the East End except her parents.
The oldest of three children, Sara Glaser attended Sacred Heart Elementary School.
"She was so tall they just shoved a basketball in her hand," Cynthia Glaser said.
Sara grew taller and more skilled. She played for a succession of schools until settling in at Allderdice as a center for her senior year. She was not playing ball at La Roche. Her mother said she was burned out and wanted to concentrate on academics.
Barbara Baldwin, the former head coach at Wilkinsburg who is now with the Amateur Athletic Union, met Sara the summer before her freshman year of high school during tryouts.
"When I first met her I was really drawn to her because Sara was open. She wasn't hard to get to know and she took direction well," Ms. Baldwin said. "Sara was the kind of person who wanted to get along with everybody and be liked, even if the group of people wasn't favorable, Sara wanted to be liked."
Mr. Walchesky described her as someone with an infectious smile who came in to Allderdice as a senior and quickly established herself as one of the starters. She helped the Dragons win the city championship last year.
"I've never had an athlete like that who came in and made an impact on a team like her," Mr. Walchesky said. "It wasn't just her personality. She was somebody that made her presence known in a positive way and enlightened the whole team. So this is kind of tough for us to deal with."
Court records show another side to Sara Glaser. Pittsburgh police arrested her twice -- in July for robbery and May for burglary. The most serious charges were withdrawn or dismissed, and she pleaded guilty to a summary offense.
In December she pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being caught drinking beer in a Shaler park. As a first offender she was allowed to avoid an alcohol-related charge that would place her driver's license in jeopardy by doing community service and taking an alcohol awareness class.
Defense attorney Ralph Karsh said his client was swept up in situations that involved other people who were doing wrong. He said he tried to convince her to change her life.
"I think she was an impressionable kid. Although she did have a charismatic smile -- very pretty, the whole package, she was tall and athletic and she seemed to be fairly bright -- but she seems to have been easily led as well," Mr. Karsh said. "She seemed to be a nice kid who seemed to fall into the wrong trap."
Jonathan D. Silver: email@example.com or 412-263-1962.