Car Plows Into Crowd Watching Pr. George's Street Race, Killing 8
Smoke May Have Hidden Victims in 3 a.m. Mishap
Sunday, February 17, 2008; Page A01
Eight people were killed and six others were injured early yesterday morning in southern Prince George's County when a motorist unwittingly drove into a smoke-shrouded crowd of people gathered on a dark rural road to watch as two drivers roared off in an illegal street race, police said.
The crash was one of the deadliest motor vehicle accidents in the Washington region in more than 25 years. It highlighted the risks of street racing, a common practice in remote areas where there are long stretches of road and few traffic lights.
The driver of the white Ford Crown Victoria that hit the group might have been blinded by the cloud of white tire smoke and debris kicked up by the two vehicles that had just started their race on Indian Head Highway near Pine Drive in Accokeek, a well-known racing spot, police said.
A large crowd of spectators -- witness accounts ranged from 50 to almost 300 people -- had gathered about 3 a.m. to watch the race, police said. The racers had created a large cloud of smoke when they spun and screeched their tires in place while "burning out," which drivers do at the start of a race to warm their engines and tires.
The spectators, who were at the starting line, had begun to move into the roadway as they looked north in the direction of the cars racing away, witnesses said. The Crown Victoria came up from behind, hitting several people in the road before it careened onto a grassy embankment, where more spectators were standing, witnesses said. Police said they are investigating reports that the Crown Victoria's headlights were off.
Witnesses and police described a grisly scene. People flew 15 feet in the air as they slammed off the car's hood and roof, which became covered in blood. Shoes and pieces of clothing were scattered along the grassy median for 200 yards. Investigators marked the pavement with spray paint. Below one circle, they sprayed "hat." Next to another, "2 shoes." A third fluorescent mark said "body."
Steve Swann, 36, of Fort Washington witnessed the crash. "It sounded like a bunch of booms -- boom, boom, boom, boom," he said. "Then, everything came to a stop."
Indian Head Highway (Route 210) is a four-lane road with two lanes in each direction separated by a grassy median where the crash occurred. The speed limit is 55 mph, and there are no streetlights.
Ron Satterfield, 59, who lives off the highway, said he sees street racing on the road far too often.
"This is like a racetrack," he said. "From 228 to Bryans Road is a racetrack, especially in the summertime. You'll see people do in excess of 100 miles per hour all the time."
He expressed frustration that more hasn't been done to shut down the racing. "How many people have to die before the officials say, 'Hey, we need to do something on this street?' " Satterfield asked.
Elizabeth Campbell, a lieutenant with the Charles County EMS department, was the first responder on the scene. She said she expected to see and hear chaos, but what she encountered was a quiet, almost surreal scene with people standing around, some of them appearing to be in shock.