- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

Eight persons were killed and five were injured early yesterday when a car plowed into a crowd gathered to watch an illegal street race in Accokeek.

Prince George’s County police said a white Ford Crown Victoria that came down the road after the racers had started off plowed into a crowd of spectators who had been standing along Route 210 at about 3:40 a.m. to watch the contest.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been on for 14 years,” said Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a county police spokesman.

Charles Jackson, 35, who lives nearby, said he witnessed the accident.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” he said, describing the impact of the car hitting the spectators. “They were like bowling pins. There was so much chaos, man.”

Police said the race began on Route 210, also known as Indian Head Highway, near the intersection with Pine Drive. Witness accounts of the number of spectators varied from 50 to 300. The cars involved in the race spun their tires, kicking up smoke before they headed northbound on the four-lane road, which is divided by a grassy median.

Cpl. Copeland said that when the race began, many of the spectators stepped into the street to get a better view as the cars pulled away.

The Crown Victoria came up from behind, speeding northbound when it ran into the spectators, crossed over a small embankment off the right shoulder and came to rest on a road that runs parallel to the highway.

The impact left the bodies of the victims strewn over 50 feet.

One of the victims who had been standing in the crowd became lodged in the windshield of the Crown Victoria, leading police initially to say that a passenger in the car was killed. Another victim was dragged in the undercarriage of the car.

Police said one of the victims appeared to have been struck by a tractor-trailer traveling in the opposite lanes as people scattered away from the accident scene. Police could not confirm the report, and later said the tractor-trailer may have struck a body that had been thrown across the median by the impact of the accident.

Seven persons were declared dead at the scene and an eighth died at an area hospital.

The driver of the Crown Victoria suffered only minor injuries, was interviewed by police and was not charged in connection with the incident. Police were still searching for the cars that were involved in the race.

Police said the tire smoke and the darkness contributed to the accident. The area of Indian Head Highway where the accident occurred is about 20 miles south of the District, near the line with Charles County and is not illuminated by streetlights. The speed limit on the flat stretch of road is 55 miles per hour.

Steve Swann, who lives nearby and witnessed the accident, was among a number of witnesses who said the Crown Victoria did not have its headlights on when it crashed into the crowd. Police did not confirm that yesterday.

“Everything came to a stop, and everybody was yelling,” Mr. Swann said.

He said the crowd numbered between 200 and 300 and that many of the spectators were wearing dark clothing.

The Crown Victoria, its windshield broken, its doors sawed off by emergency workers and its blood-stained roof crumpled, was left where it came to rest until about noon, as police investigated the crash. Orange paint pointed out where bodies and debris had landed around an accident scene that spanned more than 200 yards.

Police cordoned off the area, covering bodies with white sheets until they could be removed while a helicopter transported the injured away from the scene.

Even after the highway was reopened at about 3 p.m., wreckage from the accident could be seen in the roadway. Heineken beer bottles littered the median and a bloody sock, a blood-spattered dollar bill and the side-view mirror of a car were visible around the accident scene.

Several family members of victims returned later in the morning as police investigated the accident and were shown digital photographs in an attempt to identify the victims, who ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s.

“There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible,” said Crystal Gaines, 27, whose father was among the dead.

Miss Gaines, who estimated the crowd at about 50, said she grabbed her child but could not help her father, William Gaines Sr., 61.

“He wasn’t breathing; he wasn’t moving,” she said. “His body was in pieces.”

John Courtney said after viewing one of the images that his brother, Mark, 33, was among the dead.

“He liked going to the racetrack, watching races,” Mr. Courtney said. “It’s going to take a toll on my family for a long time.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide