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Sudden Outbreak of News Preempts Mayor's News Conference

Seconds after a driver who lost control of her Cadillac smashed into a white Toyota 4Runner that was stopped at a light at Pennsylvania and Alabama avenues SE. Mayor Adrian Fenty was scheduled to hold a news conference on HIV/AIDS when two cars collided. Four people were taken away on stretchers.Video by Anna Uhls/The Washington Post

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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

The car hit the SUV with a sickening thud, with one briefly catching fire and the other flipping over in the middle of the Pennsylvania and Alabama avenue intersection in Southeast.

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City rescue workers were about five minutes away, but help arrived much sooner. Passersby and drivers who idled at the light leapt into action, tearing at the crumpled doors of a gold Cadillac that barreled into the back of a white Toyota 4Runner, according to a witness.

And two doctors dashed to the scene. Pierre Vigilance, the city health department director, and Shannon Hader, director of the HIV/AIDS Administration, happened to be standing under a shade tree less than a block away, waiting for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to arrive and lead a news conference on the District's response to a health crisis: AIDS.

As the driver of the SUV, who identified himself as Herman Smith of Southeast Washington, got out of his car and checked on two women trapped in the back seat, Vigilance tossed off his suit jacket and directed some of the good Samaritans. "I wanted them to talk to the victims, keep them calm, wait till the EMS arrived," he said.

Hader also surveyed the scene. The two women were brought to hospitals, and two occupants of the Cadillac also were injured. Police did not immediately release the victims' names.

David DaSilva, 33, who said he was following the Cadillac on Pennsylvania Avenue, told police that he saw the speeding car lose control.

"It was like slow motion," he said. "You know they're going to hit."

Brian Patterson, 32, said debris from the crash rained on his car as it idled on Alabama Avenue. He rushed forward to assist the people in the Cadillac. Fenty showed up minutes later, as firefighters were cutting the doors off the Toyota and the roof off the Cadillac.

If there is such a thing as a good place to have a bad crash, he said, a news conference about a health issue is probably it.

"We had some very good doctors here," Fenty said.

The news conference was canceled.

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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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