- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2008

Prince George's County police yesterday released the names of six spectators killed at a weekend drag race on a rural stretch of Southern Maryland highway.

Eight persons were killed and seven others injured in the horrific accident in Accokeek at about 3:45 a.m. Saturday when a 1999 white Crown Victoria traveling on Route 210 struck a crowd of onlookers after the drag-racers left the makeshift starting line.

Police said they are not actively pursuing the racers, who before the accident had sped down the stretch of Indian Head Highway — popular among the close-knit group of drivers and fans of the illegal sport because it is flat and has no streetlights.

Officials said smoke from the revving engines and spinning tires of the race cars, along with the pre-dawn darkness, could have been a contributing factor. The Crown Victoria driver apparently did not see spectators who stepped into northbound lanes of the highway, near where it intersects with Pine Drive.

No charges are pending against the driver.

Police would not confirm reports that the driver did not have his headlights activated.

Police identified six of the victims as Mark Courtney, 33, of Leonardtown; Daryl Wills, 38, of Clinton; Maycol Lopez, 20, of Gaithersburg; Blaine Briscoe, 49, of La Plata; William Gaines, 61, of Nanjemoy; and Ervin Gardner, 39, of Oxon Hill. The first seven were killed on the scene. Mr. Gardner was pronounced dead at a Maryland trauma center.

Family members identified the seventh victim as Milton Pinkney, 41, of Aquasco.

“He was nice, nice man,” a cousin said through tears last night.

Police identified one of the injured as Craig Simms, 37, of Nanjemoy. They said two are in serious condition and the remaining have injuries that are not considered life-threatening. Police said driver of the Crown Victoria and a passenger were among those hospitalized with the less-serious injuries. Preliminary reports Saturday said a spectator died after he was thrown through the windshield.

Random shoes, clothing, bloodstained money and other evidence of the crash, among the worst in the region in recent history, were replaced yesterday with flowers, other makeshift memorials and family members who came to grieve at the site, about 20 miles south of the District.

Irma Harris, a friend of Mr. Gardner, brought balloons with pictures of race cars on what would have been his birthday.

“It’s just grief,” she said. “It’s just a hurting feeling to have him taken like that.”

Witnesses gave varying reports on how many people attended the race — from 50 to 200. Most agreed that the underground races have persisted for years, even decades, despite requests for police crackdowns.

“The racing has been a known problem. … to my knowledge, for 20-plus years,” said Stan Fetter, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council. “The police tend to get distracted by things closer to D.C., so no one’s ever there. They tend to forget about it.”

He also said his group raised the problem of reckless driving a few months ago with Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin C. High.

County police Cpl. Arvel Lewis did not say that the department plans to change its strategy, but “police are always looking for any unsafe driving.”

He also did not know whether more than one race was held Saturday night or how fast the cars were traveling.

Having witnesses identify the drivers or stopping the races could be difficult, considering the culture of secrecy among participants, the effort and equipment such as scanners used to avoid police detection and suspicion that the races include high-stakes gambling.

Sheila Howard, a paramedic in neighboring Charles County and one of the first paramedics on the scene Saturday, said she is familiar with the problem. She said the underground race circuit is well-organized.

“There’s going to be no stopping them,” she said. “There are always going to be drag racers. And they carry scanners. They know when the police are coming to them.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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