The letter was hand-delivered, and when Joan Jackson read it and the essay clipped to it she was so upset she couldn't bear to read them again. "You see," she said, her voice shaking, "that letter just shows how unfair it was for my son to have died . . . his heart and soul weren't in what he was doing . . . he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."
The letter, sent to Jackson by her son's summer school English teacher, was a note of condolence over the death of Frank Campbell, 16, Jackson's son. He was the seventh teen-ager to die this year on the Oxon Hill stretch of Indian Head Highway known as "The Triangle."
But what was attached to the letter was what really shook Jackson. It was a single-sheet homework essay that in its own carefully handwritten way provided a cruel backdrop to this particular accident.
On July 20, the day before Campbell was killed in what police reported was a drag racing accident, he turned in the assignment essay attacking reckless driving. (The friend to whom Campbell referred was not in the accident that claimed Campbell's life.)
"Wrecklous (sic) Driving"
The foolishness of some drivers is beyond belief. For example, my friend . . . is very wrecklous (sic) when he drives; he got a bad habit of taking his eyes off the road so that he could see who he was talking too (sic) beside him. Before you knew it, the car will be all over the road. That is very dangerous; you could run into somebody. Another thing that is very foolish of some drivers. They have a real problem, they like to speed. People who run stop lights, stop signs and avoid all other laws are in trouble because if they continue to do so they won't be around to tell anybody about it.
On the night of July 21, Campbell, a passenger in the car driven by his friend Robert Adams, 19, was found dead in the late-model Dodge Charger. The auto had flown off the road and was found hugging a street light pole about four feet off the ground. Adams also died in the crash. A third passenger remains under treatment at Southern Maryland Hospital Center, a fourth was treated and released. Police estimated the car had been traveling at more than 90 mph and believe it had been racing a Corvette that did not stop after the crash.
Jackson said that when the boys went out that night, they didn't have any intention of drag racing. She said she was sure Frank would not plan such a race.
Frank seemed to have a particular aversion to high speeds, reckless driving and drag racing because his father was killed four years ago in a motorcycle accident, she explained.
"Frank just wasn't into driving fast like that," Jackson said. "But sometimes you just become a victim of something you can't control, and when you're in someone else's car you just don't know what will happen.
Campell's summer school teacher at Friendly Senior High, Keith Ernestine Taylor, wrote in her letter: "Although I knew him only for a short period, I found him to be a friendly, conscientious, well-mannered and mature young man. . . . Frank's last composition . . . clearly indicates that although he participated in the drag race, his conscience and heart were totally against the actions."
In the quiet, residential neighborhood where Campbell lived, children shriek with the delights of summer outdoors, riding bicycles on the sidewalks, swimming in the neighborhood pool or jogging in the cool of dusk.
"You know, you would never see these kids, and especially not Frankie, with a beer in their hands," said Austin Lippett, a neighbor. "If anything, you'd see them with a basketball. These kids around here are pretty serious about life; most have jobs and all were well-mannered.
"Frankie wasn't the kind of kid to get involved in something like this. . . . It's just a damn shame he was, a damn shame."