Claudia Smith was sitting on her front porch steps in Fort Washington, Md., watching her 2-year-old son walk up the driveway when the engine of the family Cadillac suddenly revved. Behind the wheel was Anthony Smith, her 8-year-old son, and as he shifted gears into reverse, Mrs. Smith ran to move her toddler from the path of the oncoming car.
Mrs. Smith, 46, and her 2-year-old, Christopher, were hit by the car and dragged 45 feet down the driveway and out onto Sentry Lane. Christopher was treated for abrasions and released from Southern Maryland Hospital a few hours after the Friday morning accident. Mrs. Smith was pronounced dead from injuries sustained when the car ran over her chest and neck.
The tragic reality was just setting in at the Smith family household yesterday, and Paul Smith, the distraught and lethargic father, pondered how he was going to raise his four children now.
"The children aren't showing any remorse, no respect . . . " said Smith, 51, agonizing as Anthony ran up and down the stairs of the house, seemingly oblivious to what had happened. Christopher stood nearby in his pajamas looking dumbfounded as he patted his heavily bandaged head.
"They're just . . . " Smith's voice simply stopped as his lips kept moving. He swallowed hard and massaged his throat, " . . . too young to understand."
His wife had driven him to work at the Auditors Building in Washington where he runs a food vending stand. She was supposed to return home and take the two of the family's four children to school, but realized that she could not make it on time.
"She called me to say the kids were staying home from school and she was going to take them shopping," Paul Smith recalled. "She figured that the school principal was probably going to call so she decided to wait a few minutes."
Mrs. Smith sat outside while Christopher took a walk. Meanwhile, Anthony had found the car keys and had slipped inside the family car.
"I drove the car while mommy sat on the porch and she came to get Chris and her hand slipped and she fell," Anthony explained again to his father. "The car didn't run over her . . . "
"The car ran over her," the father replied somberly.
Anthony stared into space, fiddled with a pencil then quietly left the room.
The Smiths were married 13 years ago after meeting at St. Elizabeths Hospital where Claudia worked as a secretary and where Paul had first started his vending operation. They moved to Fort Washington in 1974, a couple who, through hard work and savings, had managed to buy a five-bedroom house with swimming pool, plus a large recreational vehicle and a 1979 Cadillac.
The couple had four children: Daryl, 11, Dee Dee, 10, Anthony, 8 and Christopher, 2. Mrs. Smith had decided three years ago to stop working and stay home to spend more time with the children.
"They treated her like one of them," Paul Smith said. "She was like a kid to them and maybe she was too relaxed around them."
Smith paused to catch his breath.
"My feeling is, if I could have planned for it, maybe I could accept it," he said. "If she had been sick or something. But I had just talked to her on the phone."
Within minutes after they talked, Smith received another call from the police saying his wife was being airlifted from the Southern Maryland Hospital to the Prince George's Hospital Shock Trauma Unit. Anthony had called 911 after the 11 a.m. accident. When Smith arrived, he learned that his wife's spinal cord had been crushed at the base of her skull.
She was "brain dead," doctors told him, but being kept on a life support system. "What's the use?" Smith cried.
The two oldest children went to stay with relatives and friends yesterday, leaving Paul Smith, Anthony and Christopher to work out their grief.
"Oh, it's gonna be hard," Paul Smith said. "I don't want to look back down the road and hate Anthony. That's not like me. Anthony is an above average boy; he's the brains in the family, but now . . . that's not what's on my mind."
"He decides he wants to take a drive. I have never seen him do anything like that before," Paul Smith continued. "He says he thought it would be a great thing to do, a fun thing to do. And the result is . . . What can I say?"
Tears began to well up in Anthony's eyes as he overheard his father from the doorway.
On the outside wall of his house, in shaky handwriting, he had scribbled a desperate note that read, "God, I wish that my mother will be home at 4 oclock. I will believe in you.