- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

Charges are pending against a driver involved in Saturday's "mixing bowl" crash that killed five persons and injured five others, but police will not identify the person.

"We are making every effort to get as much information as possible," said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for Virginia State Police.

The crash occurred Saturday morning when the driver of a dump truck heading north on Interstate 95 apparently lost control. The truck collided with a Nissan XTerra sport utility vehicle, veered left, went airborne over a guard rail and landed on top of two cars in the southbound car pool lanes.

The truck driver, Eduardo Benavidez, 35, of Triangle, Va., was not seriously injured and was charged Saturday with felony hit-and-run and reckless driving. After a few hours, the charges were dropped pending further investigation, Mrs. Caldwell said.

Police said there were many conflicting reports from witnesses, including some that indicated the truck may have been cut off, perhaps by the Nissan, which was from South Carolina.

The two persons in the Nissan were not seriously injured. Police interviewed them Saturday and now want to speak with them again.

"We are attempting to locate the couple from South Carolina and would like to discuss the incident further with them," Mrs. Caldwell said. "We know the two collided and now we want a more complete account."

Pete Peterson, assistant fleet manager with Owen & Sparrow of Lorton, told The Washington Times Saturday that the truck driver worked for a subsidiary, OSA Waste, which primarily hauls construction debris. He said he was told by police that Mr. Benavidez was not at fault.

"There was another vehicle, and preliminary indications are that the other vehicle was at fault," he said.

Police declined to confirm that Mr. Benavidez was ruled out of the investigation.

Mrs. Caldwell, who called the investigation "very complex," said that police were "interviewing and reinterviewing witnesses in the effort to get the most information possible."

She said alcohol is not suspected as a factor in the crash. There were no skid marks from the truck at the scene, making it more difficult for investigators to determine its speed and reconstruct the crash.

State police described the crash as one of the worst on a state highway in Northern Virginia in at least two decades.

The crash occurred about 10 a.m. at the heavily traveled Springfield interchange of Interstates 95, 495 and 395, where construction has been ongoing for nearly a year to improve the interchange, considered one of the most dangerous on the East Coast.

In Saturday's crash two women and a man in a Toyota Camry were killed Jacqueline Ernst, 60, of Viking Drive in Herndon, Va.; Russell Surratt, 29, and his wife, Inna Surratt, 30, both of Arlington, Va.

A McLean, Va., couple in a Saab Scott Klurfeld, 47, and Janis Klurfeld, 51, also were killed. They were on their way to a soccer game in Quantico, Va.

Their son and his friend, both 14, were pulled from the car and taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital. They remain in serious and critical condition, respectively. Police are not identifying the teen-agers by name.

Interstate 95, the East Coast's major north-south artery, was closed for about two hours in both directions at the Springfield interchange as police diverted traffic to the Capital Beltway. Traffic backed up close to seven miles in the north lanes and about four miles in the south lanes.

Designed in 1960, the "mixing bowl" has become nightmarish for commuters. Drivers from three interstates are "mixed" at the interchange, sorted by a labyrinth of interchanges and ramps. Now a $350 million construction project is adding to that misery. It is projected to take nearly a decade to complete.

On an average weekday, the mixing bowl handles 375,000 vehicles, including 40,000 trucks. State officials project that to double by 2020.

The mixing bowl is notorious for its dangerous interchanges and has been the site of more accidents than any other roadway in Virginia or any stretch of the Capital Beltway. A two-year federal study of I-95 and the Beltway found that the Springfield interchange had 179 accidents in two years, more than any other spot in Virginia.

At the same location last summer, a truck carrying 20 tons of explosive black powder for fireworks overturned after the driver lost control. The highway was shut down for most of that day.

"AAA has recognized that intersection as one of the 10 most dangerous in the country," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Mantill Williams. "It is confusing for people even who travel it everyday. As a result, we have always strongly supported the overhaul as crucial to motorist safety."

Police are asking anyone who might have seen the crash to call Virginia State Police at 703/323-4500.

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