- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Three persons were killed and five others injured yesterday morning in a crash that closed four miles of Route 50 between Church Road and Collington Road in Bowie.

"It was really chaotic," said Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse. "We're talking about a road closure of about five hours and furniture all over the interstate."

Electronic message boards alerted motorists to the closure as far back as the Severn River Bridge, almost 20 miles away, for most of the afternoon.

At 10:04 a.m., the right front tire blew out on a moving van, causing the driver to lose control, cross the grass median and and crash through a metal guardrail into oncoming traffic near the Freeway Airport, Sgt. Rouse said.

The moving van, traveling eastbound, struck a Dodge Caravan in the westbound lanes, killing the driver and passenger on impact, he said.

After hitting the minivan, the truck, which was leased to Bekins Van Lines and full of household goods, flipped on top of a Toyota Avalon.

The driver of the Avalon, identified as Ann W. Williams, 54, of Alexandria was killed on impact, Sgt. Rouse said.

While furniture, metal and glass debris were flying, a third vehicle, a Toyota Corolla, swerved to miss the wreckage but hit another vehicle a white Chevrolet truck.

Killed in the Caravan were a woman and man identified Xuan Thanh P. Tran, 37; of Annapolis and Toi V. Tran, 45, of Arnold, Md.

The injured were identified as Alexander H. Hilton, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., the driver of the moving van; James J. Johnson, 54, of Fort Belvoir; Yimi A. Cardenas-Pena, 32, of Alexandria; Stephen J. Haynes, 25, of Bowie, and Jill Albrecht, 25, of Glen Burnie, Md.

Motorists who ignored the warnings and drove west toward the District from Annapolis ran into a row of flares and several neon detour signs at the Robert Crain Highway (Route 3) exit.

Drivers knew a terrible accident was the cause of the closure, but the flares marked only the beginning of a stretch of deserted highway with no flashing lights or wreckage in sight.

Though two of the four eastbound lanes were closed for two hours, eastbound traffic was not diverted, Sgt. Rouse said.

Many motorists, trying to avoid slow-moving lines with no end in sight on Route 197, tried to use Route 450 but ran into another traffic jam. Route 450 was backed up with cars to Route 3 through the late afternoon.

Route 50's westbound lanes reopened at 3:44 p.m. after the wreckage was pushed to the side, Sgt. Rouse said.

The left two lanes of eastbound Route 50 were blocked to make room for rescue equipment.Two helicopters and an estimated four dozen police and rescue vehicles, ambulances and firetrucks responded to the accident.

Police said it took longer than usual to clear the wreckage because the moving van had to be lifted carefully from the crushed Toyota Avalon.

Another vehicle, a second Toyota Corolla that also swerved to miss the pileup, was hit with flying debris. The car's windshield was shattered and the left rear panel was struck.

"We don't know exactly what hit it, but there was noticeable damage," Sgt. Rouse said.

Mr. Hilton, Mr. Haynes and Mr. Johnson were flown to Prince George's Hospital Center. The other two were taken by ambulance to the same hospital. All five had injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

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