It was no secret that Garrett Meriwether wanted to run a hotel someday.
The 18-year-old never wavered from the goal he’d had since the seventh grade, said his father, Steve Meriwether. When he and his family would visit hotels, he would point out what he would do differently with the property’s carpet, furniture arrangement or something as simple as a dusty lampshade, his father said.
Garrett Meriwether dreamed of traveling to Macau and running his own hotel, and his parents hoped he would return home at some point to run one in Las Vegas.
His dad had zero doubts the UNLV student would have realized his goals if he had lived long enough.
“It was quite wonderful for a father to see his 18-year-old son maturing so well,” said Steve Meriwether, a retired Metropolitan Police Department sergeant.
But his son never got the opportunity to realize his dream. He died last week when his car was hit by a suspected impaired driver only a year older than he was at the intersection of Preakness Pass and Churchill Downs Drive in the western Las Vegas Valley.
The driver, Alexander Brewer, was jailed on a charge of DUI resulting in death. Bail for the 19-year-old was set at $100,000, court records show.
Messages seeking comment from his attorney, Lisa Szyc, were not returned.
Garrett Meriwether, born and raised in Las Vegas, had just finished his first year studying at UNLV’s hospitality college, his dad said. The young entrepreneur had recently received his real estate license and showed houses while he wasn’t in class, relishing the chance to practice his skills and be around other people.
“Like everything else, he put his whole heart and soul into it,” Steve Meriwether said.
He had always been the type to lean in. As a student at Palo Verde High School, Garrett Meriwether became a decorated member of the speech and debate team, said coach and teacher Shiela Berselli.
“He was an amazing human being,” she said of the Summerlin student. “I think every teacher wishes that all of their students were like him.”
There’s a standing joke that most students who take speech, also called “forensics,” sign up expecting something different, Berselli said. Garrett Meriwether was one of those kids. Yet while many drop out, he stayed on.
Over the next four years, hHe would get his best friends involved, serve as vice president of the speech and debate team, become a captain of the congressional debate team, and often mentor younger students, Berselli said. He placed in regional and state competitions and was voted the congressional debate student of the year at Palo Verde last year among roughly 150 students, she said.
“He was the core of our team,” Berselli said.
Garrett Meriwether — who often wore shorts and flip-flops to class unless it was cold out, when he wore a long-sleeved shirt and flip-flops — proved to be a considerate, funny student who made others think and defend their positions, she said. He knew both sides of an argument inside and out, and could articulate his positions well.
“He questioned things,” Berselli said. “He wanted to know the why.”
Berselli remembers a class project where two people were to pick a topic and present it in front of the class. While others discussed marijuana bans or same-sex marriage, he and his friend presented researched articles and surveys about the perils of high school dating because they thought a mutual friend of theirs was spending too much time with his girlfriend, Berselli said.
He remained in speech and debate because he knew someday he’d have to give persuasive public presentations in his career, Berselli said. He knew he was going to be at UNLV and would have a career in hotel management.
“He had everything all planned out,” Berselli said. “He knew what he wanted and how to get there.”
Jada Stinnett, 21, said that while she was president of the debate team two years ago, the students called Garrett Meriwether “Gare-bear,” a reference to how “sweet” he was. When debates got heated, he could keep practices under control or listen to people’s arguments, she said.
“He was the person that exemplified tolerance,” Stinnett said. “He was just good and kind.”
In February, the two reconnected after realizing they were both attending UNLV. Instead of practicing debates, they would meet up to study for college classes, said Stinnett, a mechanical engineering junior.
Now, her study partner is suddenly and unexpectedly gone, she said, adding that his death has been “a lot to process.”
Steve Meriwether said that he wants to keep alive the memory of his son, who wouldn’t leave a house without shaking hands or doling out hugs to his friends or their parents. His loss was felt by hundreds who attended his services Saturday, demonstrating the impact he made in his short life, his father said.
He implored drivers to slow down and to never get behind the wheel while impaired. Nobody should ever have to go through what Garrett’s family has gone through, Steve Meriwether said.
“The world needs good people,” he said. “And he was good.”