Suspect in Fatal Beltway Crash Was Over Alcohol Limit, Police Say

Woman Is Charged With Driving Under the Influence and Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Kelli Loos, who was charged with drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident.
Kelli Loos, who was charged with drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident. (Courtesy of Fairfax County Sheriff's Offfice)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 9, 2009

A woman with a long history of driving violations had a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit when she plowed into the back of a pickup truck on the Capital Beltway, sending the pickup over a guardrail and hurtling down a 60-foot embankment onto its roof in Montgomery County, authorities said yesterday.

The two men in the Nissan pickup, who were driving home to Virginia from a construction job site, were killed.

Kelli R. Loos, 33, who recently has lived in Bethesda and Chesapeake, Va., was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident, according to court records. In a letter to a judge last week in a different case, she cited family issues in trying to explain why she didn't appear in court last month to face charges of driving with a suspended license.

"Circumstances have left me not in the best frame of mind," she wrote, according to the letter filed July 1 in Montgomery District Court.

Yesterday, state police in Maryland and Virginia praised a motorist on the Beltway who saw the accident and followed Loos's Jeep Cherokee into Virginia as he called authorities on his cellphone. The witness saw Loos crash in Virginia, too, state police there said.

The incident began about 11 p.m. Tuesday when Gradys Mendoza, 39, and Franklin Manzanares, 37, both from Springfield, were driving south on the Beltway, approaching Virginia.

Mendoza, a banquet waiter at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the District, also ran a construction business, according to family and friends. His business card asked customers to "Let your dreams come true . . . "

Mendoza would hire his friends for jobs, said his brother-in-law, Jose Antonio Gutierrez. Mendoza had been married to Maria Mendoza for about 17 years, Gutierrez said, and they had two girls and a boy. "He loved those kids," Gutierrez said yesterday, speaking from a home in Springfield that was filling with friends and family members. "He loved my kids, too."

At the Mandarin hotel, coworkers had nicknamed Mendoza "Bocón," Spanish slang for "too talkative," said Carlos Parada, a co-worker and friend. "He was friendly with everybody," he said of Mendoza.

Gutierrez said Mendoza and Manzanares were from Honduras. Mendoza and Gutierrez planned to go to the soccer game last night between Honduras and the United States at RFK Stadium. Gutierrez said Mendoza didn't drink alcohol.

Parada said Mendoza kept the side business going despite the tough construction economy. "Somehow he managed to get business and his friends work," Parada said.

"He was always a happy person," said one of Mendoza's daughters, Katheryn, older sister to Madelyn and Gradys Jr. She and others said that Manzanares's wife continues to live in Honduras but that he had a son and daughter in the United States.

Also heading south Tuesday night on the Beltway was Loos. She later would tell investigators that she had been at a bar in Maryland, said 1st Sgt. Neil Johnson of the Virginia State Police.

As Loos neared Virginia, her car veered to the right, striking the back of the Nissan, said 1st Sgt. Kimberly Smith of the Maryland State Police.

The Nissan spun out of control, over a guardrail and through the air, authorities said. At the scene yesterday, a trail of sheared trees could be followed to the bottom of the embankment. There was a red door and a binder of Duron paint samples. Authorities were working throughout the night and were cleaning the scene yesterday.

Manzanares, the passenger, was trapped in the Nissan and pronounced dead at the scene. Rescue workers transported Mendoza to a hospital, but he died before arriving, Smith said.

Loos continued south. At 10:56 p.m., the motorist called authorities to report the crash and say the driver was headed into Virginia. A Virginia state trooper was scrambled to try to intercept her, but the woman crashed again -- by 11:03 p.m., said a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.

She crashed while trying to exit the Beltway onto Georgetown Pike, striking a Virginia highway sign, authorities said. She was taken into custody at that scene, said Johnson, the Virginia trooper. At the Fairfax County jail, she registered 0.20 on a breath test, Johnson said. Virginia State Police charged her with driving under the influence, Johnson said.

In Maryland, police charged Loos with failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving bodily injury. Loos was being held yesterday at the Fairfax jail, pending extradition to Maryland.

In March, Loos was issued multiple citations by Montgomery police after a collision, when she was charged with failing to furnish a written ID. She also was cited for driving on a suspended Virginia license and failing to insure the Jeep.

After she failed to appear in court on those charges June 15, a warrant was issued for her arrest. In the letter to the judge that arrived last week, Loos blamed the accident and the failure to appear on family issues and having to go out of town for a funeral.

"I was not aware my license was suspended because it was a minor traffic ticket I received back before we moved," she said.

In November, Loos was cited for driving with a suspended license and failure to obey a traffic signal in Virginia Beach. She has at least six previous speeding and traffic violations in Virginia and North Carolina dating to 1994, according to court records.

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