They had traveled to the District from Bogota, Colombia, a four-day stopover on an extended vacation up the East Coast. They were leaving for New York on Wednesday morning, heading with suitcases to the 9:20 a.m. Amtrak train at Union Station. They had tickets to see a play on Broadway.
But Maria Consuelo Rojas and her daughter, Ana Margarita Almonacid, ended up in D.C. hospitals instead, an hour and 20 minutes before their train was to depart. They were among three pedestrians struck by a black Ford Explorer at North Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
On Thursday, Rojas’s son, Juan Almonacid, and his grandmother went to the 1st Police District station in Southwest to talk with investigators and retrieve their suitcases. One suitcase was so damaged that they threw it in the trash.
All four family members live in Colombia.
Moments after the horrific crash, Juan Almonacid said that his sister, wedged under a catering van, looked up and asked, “Juan, what happened to me?”
He said he saw the SUV barreling down on the family but had no time to warn anyone. “I jumped, but I couldn’t say to my mom, ‘Look out!’ ” Almonacid said. He said neither his mother nor his sister saw the vehicle before it hit them.
D.C. police are still trying to sort through dozens of interviews to determine how the accident occurred. They have not released the names of the victims or of the SUV driver. Almonacid said police told him that the driver may have suffered a heart attack and stepped on the gas as he fell onto the steering wheel.
“I saw the [SUV] with other cars,” Almonacid said outside the police station. “I saw his head droop down. It was like he was asleep.”
Gwendolyn Crump, chief police spokeswoman, would not comment directly on whether the driver had a medical emergency. “We’re looking into all aspects of the crash,” she said. “It remains under investigation.”
After talking with police, the family was headed to Howard University Hospital, where Ana Almonacid was to be released.
Although she had been trapped under the van, Ana Almonacid’s injuries turned out to be less serious than thought. “She’s okay — she’s out of danger,” her brother said. “It’s a miracle, man.”
But his mother, a lawyer in Chia, a city near Bogota, remained hospitalized Thursday, barely conscious and with a broken leg and head bruise. “I’m worried about my mom,” he said. “But with God, I think she’s going to be okay.”
Ana Almonacid had paid for the family vacation that began in Mexico City. From there, they came to Washington and then planned to hit New York, Providence and Boston before returning home. Ana Almonacid works in the financial department of the Bogota office of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, a nonprofit human rights group.
The accident occurred about 8 a.m. Witnesses reported seeing the Explorer speed south on North Capitol Street, jump a median, strike a signal pole and hit two women standing on a curb at a crosswalk. They said the SUV then went through a small side street, hitting another woman who was crossing, before slamming into the side of the van.
Most witnesses said the Explorer hit the pole and then the pedestrians. But Almonacid said the SUV first hit an elderly woman using a cane, then the pole, and then his mother and sister, pushing her under the van.
Two witnesses said the driver of the Ford was stopped at a red light at the northwest corner of the intersection, heading south. Both said that when the light turned green, they heard the engine rev and saw the vehicle leap forward and speed south.
Brian Dodge, 34, was in the taxi next to the Explorer at the red light. “Just before the light turned green, the driver inexplicably revved the engine,” he said.
Dodge said that at first, he thought the driver was trying to leap ahead of the cab, but he said he “then watched as the driver continued to accelerate directly into the crowd of pedestrians. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen. The SUV never swerved or slowed down. In fact, it kept accelerating until it crashed into the catering van. “