Storm leaves 2 dead in Washington area


Donald Cannata Sr. was trapped and killed when a tree fell on his modest, single-story red brick home in Pasadena on Monday night. (John Wagner/The Washington Post)

On Monday morning, Mai Ai Lam-Phan was driving on a familiar two-lane stretch of road near her Clarksburg home. Her husband of more than 40 years did not want her on the dangerous roads drenched by Sandy, but she, like thousands of motorists, ventured out.

By contrast, Donald Cannata Sr., a structural engineer from Pasadena, stayed in.

Within a 12-hour span, both had been killed in the midst of their routines. No other deaths in the immediate Washington area have been attributed to superstorm Sandy.

Lam-Phan’s Jaguar was hit about 11 a.m. by a Nissan that strayed into her lane long before the storm peaked. Cannata, 74, was trapped and killed when a tree fell on his modest, single-story red brick home Monday night.

Neighbors said that watching Lam-Phan, 66, and her husband, Loc Lam, together was an inspiration.

“They walk hand-in-hand, one of the sweetest couples in my memory,” said Yudi Srisawasde, who lives a few houses away and met Lam-Phan more than a decade ago when they both worked for a financial services firm.

The couple had returned from a cruise and were planning to spend more time in Florida, where they have a home.

“I always tell my my husband, I wish that when we are older, our relationship is as tight as they are,” said Ngoc Nguyen, who lives next door. “They respect and love each other very much. It’s just not fair.”

A red light glowed on an altar in the Lam family home, along with incense, a bowl of fruit and Buddhist figurines. Loc Lam, a former service member in South Vietnam, was mourning and awaiting the arrival of his adult children and declined to speak.

In Pasadena, friends and family gathered outside Cannata’s home to remember him.

Mark Lugenbeel, a general contractor, said he worked with Cannata and considered him a friend. Both were military veterans.

“We would go to the VA together and stuff,” Lugenbeel said as stood on the street in a light drizzle. “He was just a good guy. . . . His life was work. He enjoyed meeting people and doing projects with people.”

Lugenbeel said he tried to call Cannata on Tuesday morning. After being unable to reach him, Lugenbeel said he contacted Cannata’s son, who relayed the news of his death during the storm.

“He was a sweet old man,” said Christina Ballard, a dental assistant who lived in the house behind him. “He always had a lollipop or something for my son. On Halloween, his porch light would have been on with candy.”

Sandy also proved deadly on Virginia’s roads, officials said.

At 1:23 a.m. Tuesday, a car failed to navigate a left turn in Richmond and hit a light pole and two trees, killing the driver, Keith D. Fordham, 52, and a passenger, Michael T. Overton, 51, according to James Mercante, spokesman for the Richmond Police Department. Mercante said speed was a factor in the accident, as well as rain and wet pavement.

In Clarksburg, Maryland state officials said the accident that led to Lam-Phan’s death involved skidding on standing water and would not have taken place “if not for the storm.” Montgomery police said wet conditions may have been a factor, but also noted there is a curve in Frederick Road where the accident took place and said the cause is still under investigation. Some have complained that the intersection with Brink Road is unsafe.

Neighbors said Lam-Phan nudged them to get out often to exercise and was generous with the fruits of her backyard garden, including tomatoes that just kept coming. She always made time to come over and hug the 6-year-old triplets who live next door.

“My girls just adored her,” said Alicia Kijewski as the children smiled and played in a living room full of dolls. She hadn’t yet figured out how to tell them of the death.

Allison Klein and Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.

Mike Laris came to Post by way of Los Angeles and Beijing. He’s written about the world’s greatest holstein bull, earth’s biggest pork producer, home builders, the homeless, steel workers and Italian tumors.
John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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