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.
Witnesses said it was not. Harriet Jackson said she had just pulled on to Route 1 in the Mount Vernon area with her two teenage grandsons, just south of the Boswell Avenue intersection. A police car roared past "really fast," she said. "Didn't have a siren on. Had the lights on, but no siren."
Jackson said she turned to her grandsons and said: "That police car's going really fast. It's going to hit somebody in that intersection."
McIntosh was driving her 2003 Toyota Corolla, making a left turn from the west side of Boswell Avenue onto Route 1 with a green arrow. McIntosh's relatives said they believe the officer struck the Corolla twice on the passenger side, ripping both passenger doors off the car and ejecting McIntosh. Police would not say whether they think McIntosh was wearing her seat belt.
The two cars spun to the curb. Sleet that would turn the Washington region into a sheet of ice the night of the presidential primary had begun falling. Jackson said she had a clear view of the crash and helped comfort McIntosh, who was lying on the roadway, still wearing an "I Voted" sticker.
"To us, it appeared it was an avoidable accident," Jackson said. "If the police officer had put on her brakes or used her siren, perhaps it would have been a different scenario."
McIntosh grew up on Oakbrooke Avenue, just off Fort Hunt Road, and was an All-District shooting guard and softball catcher at West Potomac High. She played, coached, managed buildings and was the first female referee in the Fort Hunt youth leagues. She had held various receptionist jobs in recent years until the teacher's assistant position opened at Clermont, where she started in the fall.
"That was her dream job," said her mother, Cynthia Colasanto. "She had a special connection with children."
At McIntosh's funeral, the Clermont teacher she assisted, Bobbi Benjamin, read messages from students. "You are so funny to me," one 5-year-old said. "I liked it when you tickled me. It made me laugh. I will miss you Ms. Mac. I love you Ms. Mac."
Staff writer Preston Williams contributed to this report.