In the waiting room outside the emergency ward of Capitol Hill Hospital, three members of the Keys family spent Christmas afternoon wondering how badly their sister, Patricia, 29, had been injured in a car accident.

A half hour earlier, the three -- Margie Keys, Gaines Keys and Eunice Keys -- had sat down to a Christmas dinner of turkey, string beans and mashed potatoes at Margie Keys' home at 3690 Hayes St. NE. Patricia was supposed to join them, but she was late.

Ten minutes after they began eating, the phone rang. It was a nurse from Capitol Hill Hospital, telling them that Patricia had been injured in a car accident.

"This is the last place I wanted to be on Christmas," said Gaines Keys, 27, of 2810 Texas Ave. SE, as he sat on a plastic chair in the brick-walled waiting area. "We'll probably all go back to the house later, but it won't be as happy as at first."

Meanwhile, doctors took X-rays of Patricia Keys' back in the emergency room. A clerk for People's Drug Store in Northwest Washington, she had been driving to Margie Key's home for Christmas dinner when her car collided with another one at Minnesota Avenue and Hayes Street NE. The driver of the other car was not injured. Key's Camaro was heavily damaged, according to police.

"We were waiting for her to come over, but she was so late that we started eating without her," said Margie Keys, as she paced back and forth in the waiting room. "We left the pies on the stove and spare ribs in the oven.

"We hadn't even opened the presents. I got my sister jeans and a sweater. She'd probably rather have a new car."