- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

Speed enthusiasts have been racing and making speed runs on Indian Head Highway near Accokeek, Md., for at least 60 years, says Charles McCutchen, who in 1948 was an avid motorcyclist and watched speed tests there.

“I remember clearly that it had the virtue of being pretty straight and only two lanes,” said Mr. McCutchen, 78, of Bethesda. “I’m sure it was before the highway was opened to traffic.”

Mr. McCutchen spoke about those early years after learning about the Feb. 16 accident in which eight men were killed while watching an illegal pre-dawn race between two cars.

Mr. McCutchen was a teenager in New Jersey when he first heard about motorcycle riders going to southern Prince George’s County to see how fast they could go. He recalled a man named Margy Dickerson once reaching a speed of 110 mph and Clem Murdough being the next fastest at 106 mph.

“So speed racing on Indian Head Highway has been going on for a long time,” Mr. McCutchen said.

After studying in England to earn his graduate degree in physics, he came to the District to work at the National Institutes of Health.

While in the area, he became more familiar with road races, including those on Indian Head Highway.

His passion for motorcycle racing continued, largely through motocross and endurance runs, eventually becoming the Northeastern States Endurance Run Champion in 1951.

The accident last week has prompted more than just Mr. McCutchen’s memory about street racing.

State lawmakers from Prince George’s County plan to introduce legislation this week to increase the camera surveillance on roads.

Randolph Caldwell, 46, who was at the crash site last week to pay his respects, said he often drives that stretch of highway at night for his jobs and until recently, it was desolate.

“Late at night, until the last couple years, I’d be the only car in this section for hours,” said Mr. Caldwell, who lives nearby in North Indian Hills Estates.

The accident occurred before 3 a.m. when a crowd of spectators stepped into the northbound lanes of the highway, also known as Route 210, to watch as two drag-racers left the starting line. Seconds later, the driver of a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria, not in the race, slammed into the crowd, creating a horrific accident scene in which debris, personal belongings and bodies were strewn for a hundred yards.

The driver has been identified as Darren Bullock, 20, of Waldorf. No charges had been filed against him as of yesterday. However, Mr. Bullock was driving on a suspended license. Police have interviewed dozens of witnesses but have yet to identify the drivers of the race cars.

Officials say they are not actively focusing on them because they were not directly involved in the accident.

“Racing things have been going on here for a long time [and] typically bring 150 to 500 people,” said Carroll Quade, 52, who works at Country Carpet along Indian Head Highway where the Crown Victoria came to a stop.

Mr. Quade said nearby merchants and residents had told police that drug dealing was attracting the crowds. Though the accusation was wrong, police began to patrol the area and “the gathering ended for a while ,” he said.

The crowds have returned, and they continue to be a problem for Country Carpet and Maco Environmental Contracting Inc., which have large parking lots around their offices and warehouses. Semi-trailer trucks bring the race cars and park among the vehicles belonging to drivers and spectators.

In the past, the crowds also left empty alcohol containers and sometimes broke windows. Police set up sobriety checkpoints and the crowds diminished.

Today, merchants say, they are cleaning up more soft-drink containers and french fry boxes, usually on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

“There’s not a lot of alcohol now,” Mr. Quade said. “It’s like a family affair.”

Some of the debris is from Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and B&J; Carry-Out, all at the nearest intersection a mile north. But employees say the businesses close at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. and they knew nothing about the races.

Noise is a problem, too.

“People who live nearby cannot stand it in the summers with their windows open,” Mr. Quade said.

One visitor after the race disaster was Brian Whitehouse, 21, of Clinton, who is a race car driver.

“I stay off the street,” he said. “It’s safer to stay on the track. Save lives.”

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