8 die in Washington area vehicle crashes

August 13, 2011

At least eight people perished in Washington area vehicle accidents Friday and Saturday, including four whose cars caught fire during wrecks and a 3-month-old traveling in a sport-utility vehicle that ran off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and slammed into a tree.

“A horrific crash scene” is how a rescue spokesman described the parkway wreck in the Beltsville area. Several occupants inside the SUV were ejected; others remained trapped; and three people were dead as of Saturday, according to the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

The accidents unfolded during the deadliest driving period of the year: from Aug. 1 through Labor Day weekend, according to AAA’s local office. More people are on the road driving longer distances, said John Townsend, spokesman for the AAA mid-Atlantic region.

“People don’t realize how deadly this period is,” he said. “They’re in vacation mode. They’re in summer mode. They let their guard down.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of those who died since Friday might have been coming to or from vacation spots or were engaging in summertime activities.

Townsend, citing nationwide statistics from 1999-2008, said that seven of the 15 deadliest days to drive occur between Aug. 3 and Sept. 2.

The deadly accidents began shortly after 4 a.m. Friday in Southeast Washington. The driver of a 2004 Mercedes-Benz lost control of the car in the 1300 block of Southern Avenue, officials said. It struck a utility pole and caught fire. Rescue workers found two lifeless juveniles trapped inside, District police said. Their names were being withheld as authorities were still trying to confirm their identities.

Early Friday afternoon, just south of Lexington Park in St. Mary’s County, Devin Sweeting, 25, was operating his 2006 Yamaha R1 motorcycle on Route 5 when the bike left the road, struck a cement culvert and turned onto its right side, according to Maryland State Police.

The motorcycle skidded along the culvert for about 170 feet while Sweeting was still in the seat, state police said. The bike then hit a utility pole. Sweeting suffered multiple pelvic fractures, officials said. A State Police rescue helicopter flew him to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he was pronounced dead at 6:07 p.m. State Police cited “driver error along with possible speed” as factors in the crash.

About six hours later, in Montgomery County north of the Capital Beltway, rescue workers were called to a burning car along Holly Grove Road in the Cloverly area of Silver Spring. They found a 2002 Subaru engulfed in flames with two people dead inside, according to Montgomery police.

Crash investigators said they think that the silver Subaru was traveling north on Holly Grove, left the right side of the road, began to rotate counter-clockwise, slammed into a tree on the passenger’s side and caught fire.

Police did not name the driver. Investigators were having difficulty determining the passenger’s identity, police said Saturday.

Two hours after the Subaru wreck, an SUV headed southbound on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway left the road and slammed into a large tree.

An adult and a teenage girl in the car were pronounced dead at the scene, according to Prince George’s rescue workers. Five others, including four children, were taken to area hospitals in critical condition, officials said. The 3-month-old was pronounced dead at a hospital, officials said.

Officials with the U.S. Park Police, which is investigating the crash, did not release the victims’ names Saturday because they hadn’t notified family members, a Park Police spokesman said.

At least some of the occupants in the SUV had just landed at BWI Airport after a family vacation outside the country, according to initial findings in the investigation, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for Prince George’s fire department.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.
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