As Car Charged Down, Man Lifted Son Up and Out of Its Perilous Path
Both Among Dozens Injured in Festival Crash in SE

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 4, 2007

At first, Denise Jackson thought some kids were out for a joy ride. She heard screaming and turned to see a bunch of people clinging to the hood of a car. Then she saw people in the air. She grabbed the hand of her 6-year-old daughter, Doseza. And began looking anxiously for her 4-year-old son.

"Marcellus!" she screamed as the Volvo station wagon flew past. "Vencent!" Minutes before, her son had gone with his father, Vencent Hayes, for chicken kebabs. She knew they were just up W Street from where she and Doseza had stopped for ice cream in front of Union Temple Baptist Church. But she couldn't see them. "Marcellus! Vencent!"

"Bodies were flying like a deck of cards," Jackson recalled. "You could hear people hit the ground so hard. It was like: Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!"

Jackson was witnessing what police and fire officials call the District's worst pedestrian mass casualty incident. What began Saturday as a day of carnival rides, fun, lemonade and the sweet prize of winning three goldfish at the 25th annual Unifest in Anacostia turned into the worst moment of her life.

Hayes and Marcellus had been walking in the middle of the road. All the streets were barricaded for Unifest, transforming narrow W Street into a bustling, vendor-filled pedestrian alley. Hayes thought they were safe. Then he saw the unmistakable grille of the Volvo.

"Marcellus! Come here!" He remembered shouting to his son, who was walking a couple of feet in front of him. The boy froze long enough for Hayes to lift him above his head. He was so light, just 37 pounds. But by then, the oncoming car had hit Hayes directly in the knees.

The impact knocked him forward, splaying him on the hood of the car, he said. That brought his son, the little "Micromachine," slamming down onto the hood. The boy slipped from his father's grasp. Hayes watched helplessly as his child rolled off the side of the car. He remembers watching him, hoping he would fall clear of the front right tire.

Hayes struggled to roll off the side of the car as well, only he didn't fall quite so clear. A tire ran over his foot.

A few hundred yards away, Doseza, who is just finishing the first grade, tried to calm a man who lay crumpled and bleeding in the street, telling him not to move, that help was coming.

Jackson flew into the street, mistaking another father and son lying hurt in the middle of the road for her family. She and Hayes are both 29 and live in the District. They've known each other since they were 6 years old, and their lives have been intertwined for years. "Marcellus! Vencent!" Jackson screamed until she was hoarse.

"Baby, I got him," Hayes managed to get out.

She ran to them. And when Marcellus held his arms out to her, she thought she would never be more grateful for anything in her life.

"Mommy, I hurt," the boy said.

Vencent, in a rush of adrenaline, raced after the vehicle as it came to a stop. He saw a man with the back of his head split open, blood running down the street. "I just had to look at the face of someone who could do something like this," Hayes said. "There's a warm place in hell for that woman."

And then the pain set in.

The ordeal left Marcellus with a broken leg, a clean break in his right shin, doctors at Children's Hospital would later tell them. He has some bruises and cuts and a big bloody "bubble" above the break that they called a contained hemorrhage, Jackson said.

Hayes's foot and legs ache. A former kick boxer, he walked stiffly yesterday, aided by a metal cane. Thick bandages cover the deep cuts and scrapes on his arms, elbows and wrists. But the family is alive.

"He's my hero," Jackson said of Hayes, tears streaming down her face.

"I'm no hero," he said. "I'm a daddy."

Marcellus is expected to be released from the hospital today.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company