One minute they were sailing down the Suitland Parkway in Anacosta, two brothers with two neighborhood friends heading home from a baby shower that their mothers had insisted they attend.
The radio was playing, they were laughing, and everyone felt good.
Suddenly the northbound late-model sports car they were in spun out of control.
"I heard a thud," recalled Bernard Brown, 14, who had been sitting in the front seat. "It was like something hit us from behind, then we was going in the wrong lane, then there was fire everywhere. We was burning. It hurt so bad."
From his hospital bed Sunday -- with both hands wrapped in bandages and tears sliding down his burned cheeks -- Brown, of 1306 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, described the Saturday night accident that killed his brother, Ricky, age 18, and best friends John Morrison, 12, 558 14th SE, and Harry Chambers, 11, 520 11th St. SE.
"It was like "big firecrackers all going off at once," Bernard said.
According to D.C. Police, the car carrying the youths crossed the grass median strip about a mile south of the Frederick Douglass bridge. Skidding on two wheels, it slammed into the side of a southbound car.
The youths' car then spun around and slammed into a second southbound vehicle, ripping off one of that car's doors and throwing one of the car's passengers out onto the highway.
With its fuel tank ruptured, the youths' car flipped completely over, landing on its wheels with an explosion that threw the car's trunk 50 feet away and turned the white Dodge Charger into an inferno.
"Everything was burning. There was a WHOOSH. It came from behind -- then from the front. It happened fast. It just hurt," Bernard said.
Even though his right hand was broken, Bernard unsnapped his seat belt, reached for the window, and pulled himself through the shattered glass, cutting his hands on the slivers.
Bernard did not know, when he talked to a reporter yesterday at Greater Southeast Community Hospital, that his brother and his two friends had died in the crash. Sipping a soda pop through a straw, he was trying to ease the pain from his hands and burns on his face by watching an old western on the hospital room's black and white television set. But the antics of the singing cowboy hero were not enough to stop the tears that Bernard clumsily wiped from his swollen eyes with his gauze-covered hands.
Listed in critical condition at that same hospital was Kevin Leonard, 21, 322 16th St. NE., who was driving the second car hit by the youths' car. A passenger traveling with Leonard was listed in critical condition at D.C. General Hospital. He still had not been identified by police yesterday.
The driver of the first car struck by the youths' vehicle, Jerome Gipson, 28, of Alexandria, and a passenger, Carol Hughes, 40, 521 F. St. NE, were treated for cuts and bruises but not hospitalized, police said.
"I looked to the left and saw this car coming right at me on two wheels," Gipson recalled yesterday. "I hit the seat right when it slammed into us. Glass flew everywhere. We couldn't get out so I crawled over into the back seat and kicked open the door."
After hitting Gipson's car, the youths' car bounced into Leonard's southbound car.
The accident still is under investigation. Police do not know why Brown lost control of the car, which was registered to his father, Adelphus. The boys were returning from a baby shower in honor of the Brown's sister, Joyce, when the accident occurred about 10:15 p.m., relatives said.