Fairfax Victim's Family Waits for Answers

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ashley McIntosh was probably at the happiest point in her young life. Her family said she finally had a job she loved, she was working with small children who loved her back and she was going to be married this summer and start her own family.

Then, as she pulled out of a Mount Vernon shopping center one afternoon last month, a Fairfax County police car barreled through the intersection and slammed into McIntosh's car, tossing her onto Route 1. The 33-year-old teacher's assistant died the next day.

In the six weeks since the Feb. 12 crash, McIntosh's relatives said, they have received no updates from police on what happened, nor has anyone from the department's victim services unit contacted them to guide them through the aftermath of the devastating loss.

Fairfax police said that Chief David M. Rohrer called McIntosh's parents after she died to express his sympathy and issued a statement promising "a comprehensive, balanced and fair investigation of the crash." Once the family hired a lawyer, police said, all communications went through him. The lawyer, Thomas J. Curcio, said police officials have returned his calls but have declined to discuss the crash until their investigation is complete in about two weeks.

This month, friends of McIntosh's family launched an online petition urging police "to conduct a fair, impartial and full investigation." More than 600 people have signed it in two weeks.

The officer involved in the crash, a 22-year-old woman with less than a year on the force, was not seriously hurt and has been placed on administrative duty. Her name has not been released.

Officer Don Gotthardt, a police spokesman, said the officer's in-car video camera was active and working at the time of the crash, but he declined to say what it showed. He said the investigation had taken six weeks because "we want to make sure we have all the facts, analyzed every bit of data to have a complete package to present to the commonwealth's attorney."

McIntosh was buried Feb. 18 after a funeral attended by more than 700 people, her family said. Her parents and older sister have received countless condolences from people who knew McIntosh as a fixture in the Fort Hunt area youth sports leagues, as a star athlete at West Potomac High School and as a teacher's assistant in a kindergarten class at Clermont Elementary School, where the kids called her "Ms. Mac."

Her family remains devastated, confused by the police silence and uninformed about how McIntosh died.

"It gets harder every day," said Meredith Heller, McIntosh's sister. "I've heard nothing from the police. I need to know that in order for me to start healing. I have to know what happened to my sister."

Her father, John McIntosh, said, "Every day I go to the cemetery to visit Ashley's grave site and ask Ashley, 'If only you could tell me what actually happened,' or for some other power to give me a sign what happened."

Gotthardt said the patrol officer had been dispatched to a call about a "fight in progress" in the Beacon Hill area shortly before 5 p.m. He said the officer had the car's emergency lights on. Whether the siren was on is "part of the ongoing investigation," Gotthardt said.

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