- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Oxon Hill woman who drove her station wagon through a street festival in Southeast, injuring at least 40 persons, was charged with aggravated assault while armed, but police were still searching yesterday for an explanation for the bizarre episode.

“We’re still trying to piece together exactly just what happened that led up to this,” said Chief Cathy L. Lanier of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Police charged Tonya Bell, 30, of the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, with assault while armed. They say she plowed her 1991 Volvo station wagon into residents Saturday night at the Unifest event along Martin Luther King Avenue Southeast.

Investigators are waiting for the results of drug and alcohol tests administered to Miss Bell at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, where she was treated for a sprained ankle.

Police Cmdr. Patrick Burke confirmed witness statements that Miss Bell appeared to have been smoking something and laughing as she drove through the crowd.

Police officials will subpoena the tests results today and give the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a department spokesman said yesterday. Additional charges are expected and likely to include assault on a police officer while armed.

No one was killed by the vehicle, which witnesses said went through the festival at about 8 p.m. D.C. fire department spokesman Alan Etter said authorities think the vehicle was going as fast as 70 mph.

Among the injured were several children and two police officers working the festival. Four-year-old Marcellus Jackson, whose leg was broken, was the only child who remained hospitalized.

Emily Dammeyer, a spokeswoman at Children’s National Medical Center, said the child is expected to be released today.

“I can’t believe that we’re actually saying that right now, everyone is going to pull through,” D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said yesterday at the hospital. He also praised residents and emergency responders for their heroism and says the case will be prosecuted “very aggressively.”

The injured boy’s father, Vincent Hayes, saved his son’s life by throwing him out of the way of the speeding car. Mr. Hayes also was hit but is OK.

“The car just passed so fast, and all of a sudden, I just heard people screaming,” said the boy’s mother, Denise Jackson. “I turned around, and it was like bodies falling out of the sky.”

The officers, who were thrown from their motor scooters while attempting to stop the vehicle, had only minor injuries.

Mrs. Bell’s 7-year-old daughter was a passenger in the vehicle but was uninjured. She was taken into care by Child Protective Services while her mother is detained or until a guardian is found.

Martin Luther King Avenue and other Anacostia side streets — including 13th and W streets — were still packed when the incident occurred.

Some witnesses said the Volvo slowed through some closed streets, then accelerated as it entered the main avenue, hitting a stage where people were dancing and sending people, strollers, shoes and food flying through the air.

A police car finally stopped Miss Bell about a block away from Unifest, the annual two-day African-American festival started in 1982 by the Union Temple Baptist Church.

Organizers canceled activities today because of the incident.

Miss Bell grew up in Southeast and was well-known, said David White, president of Chicago Shannon Civic Association. Mr. White said that he confronted Miss Bell on Saturday morning and that she was sweating and “acting deranged.”

Chief Lanier said the vehicle might have struck a police car at about 7:30 p.m.

Cmdr. Burke said officers followed Miss Bell but were told to stop because the traffic violation did not pose a threat to officers. They responded after people were struck.

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