By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008
In his first interview since a deadly street racing accident, the youngest and most seriously injured victim of the Accokeek tragedy said he has had nightmares about the crash that nearly killed him.
Gregory Johnson, then 15, said that the crash has left him angry and jittery.
"I've been real paranoid, like jumpy about things," said Gregory, who five months after the accident is trying to put his life back together. "I check my surroundings a lot. I was never like that before."
Authorities this week charged two of Gregory's acquaintances with eight counts of vehicular manslaughter and one count each of reckless driving and engaging in a speed contest in the February crash.
Eight people died and several others were injured when a car plowed into the crowd in one of the worst racing accidents in Maryland history. Authorities on Tuesday charged Darren Jamar Bullock, 21, and Tavon Taylor, 18, both of Waldorf, who are in the county jail pending a bond hearing today or tomorrow, authorities said.
Gregory, now 16, sits at home pondering his changed life. His memory of the crash is sketchy but he remembers some of that horrible morning. He and friends had been hanging out. Just before 3 a.m., the group stopped by a stretch of Indian Head Highway favored by illegal street racers. They watched with other spectators as two drivers sped to the finish line. Minutes later, as he was leaving a message on his cousin's voice mail, bodies started flying.
"I didn't know what had hit me or even that I had been hit," Gregory said. "But I do remember going airborne. . . . Then I remember when I started coming down, twisting my body so I would land on my side and not my face."
He recalled being placed in an ambulance, then later, transferred to a helicopter where he pleaded with police to preserve his new outfit. "I asked the guy in the helicopter, 'Don't cut off my clothes, officer,' " Gregory recalled. "He said, 'I have to because you are so bloody.' "
The teenager, who suffered a broken pelvis and femur, a bruised lung and damaged kidneys, along with other injuries, underwent more than a dozen operations. He was hospitalized for almost four months.
Gregory's mother, Canice Jones-Proctor, said the family learned early on who might be responsible for the accident.
As his family sped to Suburban Hospital, Gregory's sister, Caniesha Johnson, 17, spoke to a young man via cellphone who told her he was in the Crown Victoria that crashed into the crowd, Jones-Proctor said.
"He said, 'I'm on my way to the hospital.' He told her they were in the accident," Jones-Proctor recalled. "That's when [Caniesha] told him, 'You know y'all hit my brother!' He hung up."
As doctors worked on Gregory, dozens of relatives kept a prayerful vigil in the waiting room. He would later receive treatment at two other hospitals.
These days, Gregory walks with a limp. He was once a defensive tackle for his high school, but his doctors have told him that with two plates in his pelvis and a rod in his leg, his football-playing days are over.
According to authorities outlining new details of the crash, Bullock, whose license was suspended at the time, was driving a Crown Victoria in a race against Taylor when they came upon the crowd on Indian Head Highway.
Authorities said Bullock and Taylor, who sources said drove a dark green Mercury Grand Marquis, were clocked by a nearby security camera traveling in excess of 110 mph.
Taylor was arrested Tuesday at his home. Bullock reported to Prince George's jail yesterday.
The accident sent shock waves through the street racing community in Prince George's and Charles counties.
Several who died were part of the local street racing culture, like Daryl Wills, who was Gregory's cousin.
"Gregory didn't know Daryl had been killed until two months later because I just couldn't tell him," his mother said. "He kept asking, 'Where is Daryl? Why hasn't he come to see me?' I ran into the bathroom of his hospital room so many times to keep him from seeing me cry because I didn't want him to know."
Gregory said he never dreamed about the wreck until last week, when he had nightmares four times. He remembers hearing screams as he crawled back to the car that February morning. His best friend, Javon Greenfield, and another youth were about to put him in the car, but noticed the blood gushing from his belly, and placed him on the ground instead.
"They didn't know my pelvis had been crushed," said Gregory who missed most of the second half of his freshman year at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf.
Initial police reports said that Bullock, driving legally, had been on the way to pick up his brother from a go-go band gig when he happened upon the crowd in the road and was unable to stop, but from that first morning, Johnson's loved ones heard a different story, Jones-Proctor said.
"We heard from the very beginning that Darren had been racing with somebody behind him in a dark green Grand Marquis," she said.
Jones-Proctor said she grew up with Bullock's and Taylor's parents. She has seen all the parents since the accident. Taylor's father expressed regret that Gregory was injured, Jones-Proctor said.
"He always asks me how Gregory is doing," she said. "This whole thing is so hard. All these kids hang out together."
Gregory said he recently saw Bullock while visiting a friend. They didn't speak. He saw Taylor at a cookout, he said.
"He tried to give me a handshake. I told him to go on," Gregory said.
Bullock's younger brother apologized when they saw each other Friday at a teen club in Waldorf.
"I told him, 'I'm not mad at you and the other people who were in the car. I'm mad at Darren and Tavon because they were driving.' I can't believe what they did."