- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

Dawn Richardson was talking to her boyfriend on a cell phone when the sport utility vehicle she had purchased earlier in the day crashed on the Beltway on Friday night, killing her and four other persons, federal and Maryland investigators said yesterday.
Miss Richardson's 1998 Ford Explorer crossed the median and hit a minivan, killing its four occupants.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the crash to determine if the cell-phone distraction, median guardrail barriers, mechanical failure on Miss Richardson's Explorer or other faults contributed to the fatalities, spokesman David S. Rayburn said.
Miss Richardson, 20, of Arlington, had been talking on the cell phone for two or three minutes. She was following her boyfriend north about 8 p.m. on the Beltway's outer loop near the Redskins stadium, en route to his parents' home, said Mr. Rayburn, who heads an eight-member investigating team.
"The vehicle made an abrupt maneuver," Mr. Rayburn said, describing how the Explorer suddenly veered across the 55-foot median, hit the metal guardrail along the southbound lanes and vaulted into the air. Miss Richardson was still on the phone.
"He heard her scream," Maryland State Police Sgt. Russell Newell said of her boyfriend.
The SUV crashed into the roof of a 2001 Ford Windstar minivan from Quebec, Canada. The minivan then was struck in the rear by a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Jeep's occupants, Anissa Renee Obasi, 33, of Greenbelt and her children, Noah, 3, and Imani, 11 weeks, were slightly injured.
The minivan occupants were identified as Julien Laliberte, 67, Laurent Laliberte, 66, Huguette Laliberte, 62, and Yolande Rodgers, 62.
The NTSB was called because the accident might have national safety implications. The investigators will report their findings to the NTSB, which will recommend changes or improvements to the roadway.
Other states have imposed regulations on use of cell phones while driving. Mr. Rayburn referred to cell-phone use that was blamed for a woman's death on a railroad track in Texas in 1997, and a wreck last year in Illinois when a woman pulled out in front of heavily loaded transport trucks.
Miss Richardson bought the Explorer in Arlington, and investigators were checking with the previous owner and its maintenance record, as well as the wreckage for potential malfunctions.
Investigators said they could not immediately estimate speeds of the vehicles involved.
Most attention has been paid to the guardrail. It is designed to keep southbound traffic in those lanes, Mr. Rayburn said. But it acted almost like a catapult for the northbound Explorer, he said.

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