ACCOKEEK, Md. - Eight people were killed and six others injured early yesterday morning in this town about 20 miles south of Washington when a motorist unwittingly drove into a smoke-shrouded crowd of people gathered to watch an illegal street race, police said.
The accident was one of the deadliest ever in the Washington region. It highlighted the risks of street racing, a common practice in remote areas where there are long stretches of road and few traffic lights.
The driver of the white Ford Crown Victoria that hit the group might have been blinded by the cloud of white tire smoke and debris kicked up by the two vehicles that had just started their race on Indian Head Highway near Pine Drive in Accokeek, a well-known racing spot, police said.
A large crowd of spectators - witness accounts ranged from 50 to almost 300 people - had gathered about 3 a.m. to watch the race, police said. The racers had created a large cloud of smoke when they spun and screeched their tires in place to warm their engines and tires.
The spectators, who were at the starting line, had begun to move into the roadway as they looked north at the cars racing away, witnesses said. The Crown Victoria came up from behind, hitting several people in the road before it careened onto a grassy embankment, where more spectators were standing, witnesses said. Police said they were investigating reports that the Crown Victoria's headlights were off.
Witnesses and police described a grisly scene. People flew 15 feet in the air as they slammed off the car's hood and roof, which became covered in blood. Shoes and pieces of clothing were scattered along the grassy median for 200 yards. Investigators marked the pavement with spray paint. Below one circle, they sprayed
Next to another,
A third fluorescent mark said
Steve Swann, 36, of Fort Washington, Md., witnessed the crash. "It sounded like a bunch of booms - boom, boom, boom, boom," he said. "Then everything came to a stop."
Indian Head Highway (Route 210) is a four-lane road with two lanes in each direction separated by a grassy median where the crash occurred. The speed limit is 55 m.p.h., and there are no streetlights.
Ron Satterfield, 59, who lives off the highway, said he sees street racing on the road far too often.
"This is like a racetrack," he said, ". . . especially in the summertime. You'll see people do in excess of 100 miles per hour all the time."
He expressed frustration that more hadn't been done to shut down the racing. "How many people have to die before the officials say, 'Hey, we need to do something on this street?' " Satterfield asked.
Elizabeth Campbell, a lieutenant with the Charles County, Md., EMS department, was the first responder on the scene. She said she expected to see and hear chaos, but she encountered a quiet, almost surreal scene with people standing around, some appearing to be in shock.
"When one pedestrian is struck, it's a bad scene, but with multiple pedestrians, it was overwhelming," said Campbell, who quickly set about treating victims and placing white sheets over the dead.
Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a Prince George's police spokesman, called the scene the most "horrific" in his 14-year career.
William Gaines Jr., of Nanjemoy in Charles County, said his father, William Gaines Sr., 61, was hit and killed while standing next to him in the road. He said he had his back turned when the Crown Victoria came through the crowd. When he turned around, he said, his father was gone.
"The race was over with," said Gaines, who returned to the scene yesterday afternoon. "The car came up from behind us. I didn't see the car until it was over. It happened so fast."
Police did not release the names of those who were killed or injured but said all the deceased were men. Family members identified four of the dead as Mark Courtney, 33, of Leonardtown, Md.; Gaines, who lived in Nanjemoy, Md.; Darrell Wills, age and hometown unknown; and Milton Pinkney, 41, of Aquasco, Md.