With a flick of his wrist and a few words, Eugene Johnson could turn a flash of fire into a white dove.
For almost two decades, Johnson, of Manassas, captured the attention of area residents as the turban-sporting Magical Genie. He was killed early Sunday when the driver of a Yukon sport-utility vehicle slammed into the back of his car, sending it into a tree along Indian Head Highway in Prince George’s County.
Johnson, 53, was one of three people killed in the crash, which police said happened just after 3 a.m. His wife, Cordelia Johnson, died, according to friends and family members. County police said Gwendolyn Demby, 52, of Manassas also died. Johnson and Demby were sisters, family members said.
A fourth passenger, a 52-year-old man from Manassas, has “debilitating injuries but is expected to survive,” said Cpl. Mike Rodriguez, a police spokesman.
“Fun was Eugene’s middle name,” said Denny Haney, who owns Denny & Lee Magic Studio in Baltimore County, where Johnson trained. “He was always laughing and enjoyed putting on a nice show. He will be missed.”
Haney said Eugene Johnson developed his genie character, which he embellished with a white suit and shoes that curled at the toes. Producing a dove from fire was his favorite trick.
During one practice, however, it backfired. While preparing for the trick, Haney said, Johnson looked into his turban and the fire ignited, burning his eyebrows off.
“He was a very talented magician,” said Gary Kwolek of Culpeper, who has attended one of Johnson’s shows with his son. “He had this way of connecting with the audience and making sure everyone was participating.”
Johnson performed across the region at gatherings ranging from children’s events to corporate parties, Haney said.
Cordelia Johnson and Demby loved dancing, according to their nephew, Leonard Roberts, who said he thinks they were returning from a night out when they were killed.
Demby ran a contracting company and was supposed to travel to North Carolina this week for work, Roberts said. Cordelia Johnson worked in human resources for Fairfax County.
“She brought a smile and enthusiasm to work every day,” said Susan Woodruff, human resources director for the county. “This is a huge loss to the agency.”
Prince George’s police said a preliminary investigation found that alcohol and speed were factors in the accident, but the 35-year-old driver of the Yukon has not been charged, Rodriguez said.
Prosecutors and police are continuing to investigate.
Staff writer Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.