Matt Thompson loved his motorcycle. He loved the martial arts. And he loved Christmas.
"He used to sneak a look at his presents -- pull the tape off the box and then tape it up again," said Thompson's stepfather Merle Zuel. "Christmas was his favorite. He was still a big kid at heart."
But Thompson wasn't around this year to enjoy the season he loved. The 23-year-old Lawrence resident was killed Nov. 20 when a pickup truck hit his motorcycle on Sixth Street.
In the days following Thompson's death, his friends placed a cross at the scene of the accident. Friday night, 11 friends and family members gathered at that cross, just outside Graystone Apartments, 2512 W. Sixth St., to hold a Christmas Eve vigil in his honor. The group included the father of a close friend of Thompson's who was dressed as Santa Claus.
"We wanted to give it a little light-hearted Christmas touch, so it was good we could have Santa here," Zuel said.
While a bitterly cold wind prevented the group members from lighting candles, they huddled together and had a brief ceremony in Thompson's honor. A few people brought flowers to lay by the cross. The group recited the Lord's Prayer and sang a few Christmas carols before people shared remembrances of Thompson.
Thompson's ex-girlfriend Jessica Wilson spoke of how giving Thompson was to holiday charities. He contributed to Toys for Tots and helped set up for that charity's annual Blues Review benefit concert, she said.
Wilson organized the vigil.
"We all wanted to do something in his memory, for his favorite holiday," Wilson said. "We know he is watching us right now."