By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2007
The young couple in the convertible were headed to a North Carolina beach house when they crossed paths with a man in a green pickup truck south of Frederick yesterday morning.
The two male drivers got into a spat, police said, "exchanging obscene gestures" as they whizzed south on Interstate 270 during the thick of rush hour.
Near the Urbana exit, in an apparent attempt to have the last word, police said, the pickup driver slammed on his brakes when the Chrysler Sebring convertible was on the truck's tail, prompting the convertible's driver to swerve right. The convertible slammed against the guardrail, flipped over and barreled into an embankment shortly after 8 a.m.
The driver, Christian M. Luciano, 28, and his girlfriend, Lindsay L. Bender, 25, both of Harrisburg, Pa., were ejected from the car and died almost instantly, police said.
The driver of the pickup sped away. Police are searching for him.
"How could something so stupid lead to this?" Charles Bender, Lindsay's father, said last night in a phone interview. "They had their whole life ahead of them. I feel sorry for whomever that driver is. I have no hate. I have sorrow."
Maryland State Police troopers described the driver as a white male in his 30s with dark, collar-length hair who was wearing a dark baseball cap. The driver was behind the wheel of a light-green late 1990s or early 2000 model Chevy Silverado standard-cab truck with a diamond-pattern rear bumper, said Trooper 1st Class Eric Corbin, one of the investigating officers.
"We're definitely looking for anyone with information of his whereabouts," Corbin said.
Corbin said Luciano and Bender were not wearing seat belts. Investigators are not certain how fast the vehicles were traveling, what started the dispute or how long it had been going on, Corbin said. Witnesses told investigators that the drivers had been quarreling since at least Route 85, which intersects I-270 just south of Frederick. The Urbana exit is a few miles south of Frederick.
Outbursts of road rage are a daily occurrence on I-270, which has become increasingly congested in recent years, police said.
"We get calls every single day," Corbin said, "particularly during rush hour."
Charles Bender, 55, said he spoke to his daughter minutes before the crash. He said Luciano's car had been having problems, so the couple borrowed Lindsay's mother's convertible.
They left home at 7 a.m. for the 395-mile trip and were looking forward to spending a few nights at the beach house because they had been working long hours, he in construction, she at a furniture store, Bender said.
"They were just so excited and happy," he said. "They said they were south of Frederick. I told them to take their time, relax; they couldn't wait to get here and relax. We were all excited."
The couple met at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and started dating almost four years ago, Bender said. His daughter was a political science major, and Luciano was a state champion wrestler, Bender said.
"She has always been a big wrestling fan," he said.
Luciano was a "great kid, hard-working," he added. "They were planning to get married. All they did was work."
The couple had moved into an apartment March 1 and spent the past few weeks furnishing it and buying appliances.
Lindsay Bender's two sisters were at the beach house with their parents yesterday. They had been up since 7 a.m. in anticipation of the couple's arrival. About the time they were expected to reach the house, the family received a call from a Maryland state trooper.
Occasionally choking up, Charles Bender offered the following anecdote to illustrate his daughter's personality. When she was in fifth grade, some of her classmates mocked a girl who wore jeans with holes to class. Lindsay told her father when she got home and decided to take action.
"She gave her new jeans to that little girl," he said. "This was the kind of girl she was."
Charles Bender said his family is trying to understand why God would allow them to die.
"I don't understand it," he said. "They were so happy that He thought it was the right time to take her."
Police encourage anyone with information about the crash or the driver of the pickup truck to contact police at 301-644-4151.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.