Va. Woman Killed, 18 Hurt in Delaware Toll Plaza Pileup

By Joe Holley and Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 17, 2007; 11:42 PM

The three Arlington County friends were sitting in a 2006 Acura, waiting for their turn to pass through the Interstate 95 Newark Toll Plaza in Delaware, just as more than 1,000 cars do every hour.

But as they inched closer to the tollbooth Thursday night, a Ford Econoline van was heading toward them at high speed, police said. The driver never braked and slammed into the back of the Acura, killing Meghan Kieffer, 23, who was sitting in the back seat, and setting off a chain-reaction collision that injured 18 people.

"They were just paying the toll," said Kieffer's mother, Barbara Kieffer, who lives in West Islip, N.Y.

Her daughter was heading to New York for a long weekend and had hitched a ride with two friends, Christopher Perry, 24, and Brian Meenaghan, 25.

Now Barbara Kieffer is making plans to donate as many of her daughter's organs as possible to salvage something out of her unbearable loss.

"It's possible it could help up to 30 people," she said. "It gives me some comfort to know that. I know she would want that."

After the 9:30 p.m. crash, the victims were taken to area hospitals, though not all of them needed treatment, said Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh, a Delaware State Police spokesman.

Perry, who was driving the Acura, was treated for a minor head injury. Meenaghan, who was in the front seat, was hospitalized with chest and neck injuries. Kieffer died in the car.

Police charged the driver of the van, Hai Lin, 27, of Kimball, Tenn., with operating a vehicle causing death.

Lin, who was being held in a Delaware jail in lieu of bail, "did not even try to stop before the impact," said Michael Williams, manager of public relations for the Delaware Department of Transportation. Police were trying to determine how fast he was going.

Williams said the collision was classified as a work-zone incident, because paving work near the toll plaza -- which takes place only at night -- required channeling northbound vehicles into five satellite lanes. Overhead message boards and bright lights directed drivers to the appropriate lanes. The backup was about a quarter-mile long when the collision occurred, Williams said.

The roadway was shut down for about two hours, with intermittent lane closures until about 3 a.m. Police put in place a procedure called "counter flow," which involves directing vehicles over the grass median and through the toll plazas serving vehicles traveling in the opposite direction.

Kieffer said her daughter, the elder of two girls, grew up in West Islip, on Long Island. She moved to Baltimore to attend Loyola College, a small Jesuit university, and graduated in 2005 with a degree in business administration and a concentration in economics. Perry and Meenaghan are 2005 graduates of the University of Maryland.

After college, Kieffer went to work for BB&T Bank in Northern Virginia, where she and Meenaghan, who also has a degree in business administration, went through the management and development program together, Barbara Kieffer said.

Meghan Kieffer had lived in Arlington for the past two years, her mother said.

Barbara Kieffer said the last time she saw her daughter was in June, when she, Meghan and Meghan's 19-year-old sister, who attends Wake Forest University, went on a hiking trip to Yellowstone Park.

"I can't believe this has happened," she said, choking back tears. "It hasn't sunk in yet."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company