Inmate on Work Crew Killed on I-495 in Pr. George's

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

In the second such incident in Prince George's County in two months, a Maryland state prison inmate was fatally injured yesterday morning when he was hit by a dump truck while picking up trash as part of a work detail on the Capital Beltway.

Members of the six-man inmate crew said in interviews on the scene that Rodney Jennings, 29, and at least two other inmates were making their way to the right shoulder of the southbound Beltway in the Landover area after picking up litter on the opposite side of the road.

As the men attempted to cross the ramp for Exit 17, about 10 a.m., a dump truck and a tractor-trailer approached, crew member Christian Taylor said. "Both the trucks was trying to exit at the same time," Taylor said. "The dump truck got off on the ramp, and the other truck kept going, but then the dump truck just hit him as he was trying to get to the other side."

Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a prison system spokeswoman, said the inmate who was killed was serving a two-year sentence for a drug distribution conviction and was due for release in 2009. Doggett said she could not confirm the inmate's identify because the next of kin had not been notified, but witnesses said the man was Jennings. She said the hundreds of inmates who participate in such details, which are run with assistance from the State Highway Administration, are each paid about $2.50 a day.

Valerie Edgar, a spokeswoman for the highway administration, said the supervisor of yesterday's crew will be tested for drug use as a matter of routine.

Wayne H. Goss Sr., the dump truck driver, said in an interview that he "leaned on" his horn when he saw the three men as he pulled onto the exit ramp. Two of the men stood still in the grassy area on one side of the ramp, Goss said, but Jennings darted across the ramp and directly into the truck's path.

"He was all right where he was at, but maybe the horn scared him," Goss said through tears.

Jennings, his legs crushed, was unconscious until a fellow inmate administered CPR, witnesses said. Authorities said he was taken to a medical trauma center, where he was pronounced dead about two hours later.

Lee Bayersdorfer, 47, a truck driver, said he was behind Goss's dump truck on the ramp. He said Goss appeared to be driving at a normal speed. He also said he was traveling about 40 mph as he followed the dump truck onto the exit ramp.

"He wasn't driving fast," Bayersdorfer said. "He was blowing his horn, then those guys just started running."

On June 18, a 27-year-old inmate from a boot camp in Jessup was killed and another inmate was injured when a motorist struck the men as they were picking up trash on the Beltway in the Oxon Hill area, police said.

The driver, a 65-year-old Richmond man, is thought to have had a medical emergency as he traveled south near Temple Hills Road. His Toyota Avalon left the road, traveled along the shoulder, struck the guardrail and hit the inmates, police said.

Inmate James Morton Bey was pronounced dead at the scene. Bey, sentenced in 2006 to two years in prison for drug distribution, was among the many inmates from the six-month boot camp at the state prison in Jessup who work on the detail, corrections officials said at the time.

The other inmate, a 23-year-old man whom authorities have declined to identify, was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for injuries that were not considered life-threatening.

In January 2006, a woman and her infant son were seriously injured when she crashed her vehicle into a highway administration dump truck that was part of an inmate crew on the Beltway in the Capitol Heights area, authorities said.

Yesterday, Sandy Moufti, a State Highway Administration official who was at the scene, said the men had been working for about 20 minutes when Jennings was struck. She declined to comment further.

Goss was visibly shaken after the accident. "I've been driving about 10, 12 years," he said. "I just never imagined something like that -- running someone over."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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