Cheers to Screams, With Lives Shattered in Between

Antonio Torney suffered head injuries and a broken leg when he was hit by the car that came upon a crowd watching an illegal street race in Accokeek.
Antonio Torney suffered head injuries and a broken leg when he was hit by the car that came upon a crowd watching an illegal street race in Accokeek. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

Antonio Torney was partying at Club Elite in Temple Hills on Friday night when his cellphone rang.

"What's up, Pimpin'?" his friend Ervin Gardner asked. "They're about to get it on down on 210."

Torney danced another couple of songs with his girlfriend, polished off his Heineken and headed east to Accokeek.

Mark Courtney had spent the evening playing cards at his cousin's house when a buddy called to invite him to the street race. It was after 11, and he was tired. He thought about going but declined. He was getting ready for bed when the friend called back. This time, Courtney couldn't resist. He got dressed and headed out.

Maycol Lopez heard about the race when he met up with friends on Rockville Pike. "We all decided we wanted to go," recalled his best friend, Wilson Fernandes.

The five were among the crowd standing on Indian Head Highway early Saturday when the unthinkable happened: Seven spectators were killed, struck down by a car whose driver said he didn't see them until it was too late. Another died later, and five were injured.

"You see this stuff on television, but you never think you'll see it with your own eyes," said Torney, 30, of Oxon Hill, who was injured. "One second, everybody was watching the race, having a good time, laughing, talking, cheering. The next, there are body parts all over the place . . . arms, legs, teeth."

Days after the accident, witnesses and relatives are struggling to understand how such a tragedy could have occurred among a group of people who knew how important it was to stay out of the way of speeding vehicles, even on a dark, isolated highway a few hours before dawn.

"My brother raced cars. He knows to watch out for cars. Everybody out there had been to street races before," John Courtney said of his brother Mark, who was killed. "They know you watch the street. If a car comes, you move out of the way, and you tell everybody else to move. That's what you do."

* * *

The fateful race lasted mere seconds. Hours before it began, a crowd gathered in the parking lot of the Burger King near Route 228. From there, they caravaned to the spot, about a mile away.

Near Pine Drive, a residential road that bisects the highway, the fans fell into their routine, parking on the shoulder and in the lot of a carpet warehouse. Some got out of their cars to wait for the races to begin, turning up their collars against the biting wind. In his car, Torney's girlfriend snuggled under her coat and settled in for a nap while he headed for the starting line.

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