Tran Le Hoa, a 10-year-old Vietnamese refugee with shoulder-length black hair and hazel eyes, skipped lightly in front of a group of her schoolmates Thursday night and into the path of beige van on heavily traveled Lomond Drive in Manassas.
The van knocked her to the pavement and kept going. Then, before she could crawl back to the curb, a dark-colored compact car hit Hoa and dragged her 50 feet.
"I saw the second car hit her and I ran like hell to try to reach her," said Bob Cole, 36, a Manassas real estate agent. "Other cars were driving past her like she was a dead animal on the street. I couldn't believe that no one would stop. It almost made me throw up."
Twenty minutes after the accident, Hoa was pronounced dead at Prince William County Hospital.
The girl, her mother Tran Lam Thi and eight other Indochinese refugees, six of them children, were leaving a class in English as a second language at the Stonewall Jackson Middle School on dimly lighted Lomond Drive when the accident occurred about 7 p.m.
"That street at night is like the New Jersey Turnpike," said Cole, who was on his way to an evening class in financing when he saw the accident.
Police said they had previously received complaints that the street "is like a drag strip right in front of a school," one said.
Cole said the girl's 12-year-old brother was nearly hit by passing cars as he ran sobbing toward his sister.
"I almost put my fist through a car window trying to get drivers to stop before someone else got hit. I couldn't believe it," Cole said.
Prince William County police investigator David Mabie said yesterday, "We have no idea at this point whether the van or the girl was originally at fault. The refugees were moaning and screaming . . . None of them was speaking English, and that is hampering our investigation."
Mabie said the vehicles that hit the girl had not been located and he hoped their drivers will come forward voluntarily.
The girl and her family -- her 43-year-old father Tran Trung Bac, her mother and their three other children -- were forced to flee the Vietnamese port city of Haiphong four months ago and were able to take a flight to the U.S. According to investigator Mabie, Hoa's death is the third tragedy the family has experienced in the last year.
"They told us through interpreters that a little boy of theirs died of an illness just before they left Haiphong," Mabie said, and them Mrs. Tran gave birth to a stillborn child. "It's the saddest case I've ever seen." Mabie said.
The Trans were settled last November in a sparely decorated, apartment in Manassas by the Washington-based Buddhist Social Services organization, according to Jane Wayland, principal of Westgate Elementary School, where Hoa was in the second grade.
Hoa's father got a job as an electrician at the Glen-gary brickyard in Manassas although he spoke only rudimentary English, Mabie said, and the Trans seemed remarkably adaptable to American life.
Wayland recalled that Hoa "was such a bright girl. The children were very close to her and were always helping her with her English, which she seemed to be picking up rapidly."
Yesterday the Westgate school pupils composed letters expressing their sadness at Hoa's death. The letters were given to her family, even though they cannot read them.
"We all observed a moment of silence for her, and I talked to the students about her," said Wayland. "We all regard this as a very great loss."
Kim Anderson, a translator at the Westgate school who stayed with the Trans last night, said: 'The family is taking it hard. They are very sad, very grief stricken. They wonder what else can go wrong now."