To hear his mother tell it, Ensign Samuel Cleghorn’s love of the water led him to pursue a career in the Navy.

Growing up in coastal Florida, the 22-year-old free-dived, fished and took any opportunity he could to leave land, his mother, Robyn Vanover, recalled.

Cleghorn was commissioned in May and reported to Virginia just six weeks before he was killed by a suspected drunk driver Oct. 3 in Virginia Beach.

Cleghorn’s 2017 Yamaha FZ07 motorcycle was struck by a 2014 Jeep Cherokee on westbound Interstate 264, just after midnight, according to the Virginia State Police.

The jeep’s driver, Cali Ly Vu Huynh, 37, was arrested and charged with DUI manslaughter, according to the police and court records.

She was denied bond and remains in custody at the Virginia Beach City Jail, according to the jail’s site.

Now, those who loved Cleghorn are left to pick up the pieces following his loss.

“To go this way just doesn’t make any sense,” Vanover said. “It’s just not what any of us ever envisioned. And it’s heartbreaking.”

Cleghorn wanted to join the military from an early age, his mother recalled.

“He was just always military-minded,” she said. “When kids were watching cartoons, he was watching the military channel.”

Cleghorn’s stepdad and uncle served in Vietnam, and his grandfather served in the Navy, Vanover said.

“He loved history,” she said. “His uncle would take him to the (Civil War) battlefields. They would walk the battlefields together and just talk about the military.”

At the time of his passing, Cleghorn was training to eventually join the crew of the guided-missile destroyer Mason.

At Training Support Center Hampton Roads, Cleghorn gained a reputation as one of the first ensigns in his class due to his hard work and technical skill, the unit’s commanding officer, Capt. Mike Gunther, said in a statement.

“Sam was an exceptionally gifted and positive officer and student,” Gunther said. “Sam’s personality made it easy for him to gain the friendship of his fellow Sailors and he will be greatly missed.”

Vanover said she was heartened to see hundreds of people whose lives Cleghorn had touched turn out for his memorial service.

“He was loved by so many people,” she said. “And he’s going to be so missed.”

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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