Driver Used Crack Before Festival Crash, D.C. Police Say

Renaldo D. Taylor attends a service yesterday at Union Temple Baptist Church, the sponsor of Unifest, which saw its 25th celebration cut short Saturday when a woman identified as Tonya Bell, 30, of Oxon Hill drove through the crowd.
Renaldo D. Taylor attends a service yesterday at Union Temple Baptist Church, the sponsor of Unifest, which saw its 25th celebration cut short Saturday when a woman identified as Tonya Bell, 30, of Oxon Hill drove through the crowd. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By Robert E. Pierre, Sue Anne Pressley Montes and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 4, 2007

The woman charged with driving through a crowded Southeast Washington festival this weekend -- injuring dozens -- had been "smoking crack all day long," Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said yesterday, citing witnesses and the woman's statement to police.

The driver, whom police identified as 30-year-old Tonya Bell of Oxon Hill, is charged with aggravated assault while armed. She has felony and misdemeanor arrests dating to at least 1995 and has served time in prison for charges involving cocaine. Bell suffered a sprained ankle Saturday night in an episode Mayor Adrian M. Fenty described as "one of the worst serious traffic accidents" in D.C. history.

At least 40 people, including seven children, were hurt when Bell drove her station wagon through the crowd. In the midst of the mayhem, parents pushed their children aside and tossed empty strollers in her path, hoping to block her. Police on bicycles and motorbikes didn't dare use their weapons with so many people at risk. Instead, they threw two motorized scooters beneath Bell's vehicle, bringing it to a stop.

Bell's expression while driving disturbed witnesses.

She appeared to be laughing, they said.

The incident brought a terrifying end to what had been a peaceful day of music and merriment in historic Anacostia. It occurred about 7:45 p.m. as Unifest, celebrating its 25th year, wound down for the day. Families walking home with plates of fried fish were suddenly scrambling for their lives.

"It was chaos. People were just lying everywhere. There were mangled strollers, kids with broken legs. I saw a woman who was hit so bad, her whole body was twisted," said Linda Greene, who lives at 14th and W streets SE, near the crash site. "One guy was stretched out in the street, and it looked like he wasn't moving at all. You saw people with head injuries just walking the streets, bleeding."

Dozens were treated at the scene, including about 35 people who were taken to eight hospitals. Five people were seriously hurt, officials said, although their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening. By late yesterday, most of the injured had been released, officials said.

"It looks like everyone is going to pull through," Fenty (D) said during a visit to Children's Hospital yesterday, where he met with, among others, a 4-year-old boy whose leg was broken when he was hit by the station wagon.

Investigators are trying to determine exactly what happened. How fast was Bell going? There are conflicting accounts about her speed. Where was she headed? Why didn't she stop? Was she high? If so, for how long? Police are seeking answers to those questions as they await toxicology tests results.

Bell, who is jailed, is to appear today in D.C. Superior Court.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry said his chief of staff is trying to determine whether Bell works as a temporary employee for Barry's council office. Barry (D-Ward 8) said someone named Tonya Bell has worked in the office for several weeks. "Whether it is the same person or not, I am trying to check it out," Barry said last night. "I've asked my chief of staff to try and find out if this Miss Bell is one of several administrative aides we use from temporary agencies."


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