Diana Lorraine Wyman had been working against deadline, readying Metro signs for Inauguration Day crowds. On Jan. 17, the 21-year-old commercial artist rode the subway to inspect her work and then spent a well-earned evening with friends.
It was late when she started home to Damascus. She drove along the smoothly paved, winding Rte. 108, one of the most picturesque in the county with stately sycamores hugging both sides of the road. But it was dark and the road was unlit.
The double yellow line down the center of the road and the trees on both sides flashed steadily past her headlights. She was almost home when the familiarity of the drive and the monotony of the road, at the best guess of police and her family, lulled her to sleep.
In the next moment, her Dodge Colt hit the right embankment, swerved across the road and careened into a tree. The young woman was dead.
Since last August, 11 persons have died in accidents along a 12-mile stretch of Rte. 108 between Damascus and Olney, prompting Del. Jerry Hyatt (D-Montgomery) to ask the state Highway Administration to inspect the road for dangerous spots that could be corrected.
"Most of the accidents occur on a straight stretch of the highway," said Germantown traffic Sgt. E.M. Brightwell. "The only way to solve it is to cut the trees and widen the drive-off area."
The roads in the recently created Germantown police district are among the least traveled, yet saw the highest number of traffic fatalities in the county last year -- 28 out of a total of 66. Nearly half of those 28 were single-car accidents on country roads like the one on which Wyman died.
With 230 square miles to cover in the Germantown district and accidents occurring when there is little traffic on the road, chances for patrolment to prevent the crashes are slight, according to the police. At their recommendation, the county and state have added traffic lights and road signs, and lowered the speed limit on many of these old country roads that are becoming commuter thoroughfares.
Rte. 108 is heavily travelled by commuters from Mount Airy heading toward the western part of the county, in the direction of Silver Spring. Others take Rte. 27, another single-lane highway, but one with more shoulder and fewer trees.
"The accidents in 1980 occurred every day of the week, from early in the morning right on through, and on almost every road in the area," said Brightwell. "When there's no set pattern, it's difficult to set up enforcement."
Brightwell drove along Rte. 27 and Rte. 108, pointing out each tree and telephone pole that had been struck in a fatal accident, identifying each curve a driver failed to make. A passer-by would not know from appearances that a car going 50 m.p.h. had been stopped by the trees. The bark is only scuffed.
"The road is so nice and smooth. If you're just a little bit tired, it's easy to doze off," he said.