The day 6-year-old Michelle Frieman died was cold and crisp, the kind of winter day when sounds echo, when the sudden screech of a speeding car can pierce closed doors and shatter a community.
"I can still hear the whole thing," recalled one resident of Bay Hills, the Anne Arundel County community where Michelle lived. "I heard the car and I thought how fast it was coming. I heard someone shout 'Don't!' and the car hit the brakes. I ran to the door and saw the little girl lying in the middle of the street."
Michelle, a slight, pretty girl, had run into the car's path while trying to cross the street to get to her house.
It has been nearly two years since that day. Gone are the homemade signs and roadblocks that were erected immediately after the accident urging motorists to slow down.
But the memory of blood-stained asphalt and Michelle Frieman's lifeless body still splits the 400-family, middle-class development.
Three months after the accident, Michelle's father, Arnold Frieman, filed a lawsuit charging negligence against Anne Arundel County, the driver Catherine Maxfield and Joseph Tarr, a neighbor who had been watching Michelle at the time of the accident.
Attorneys started lining up witnesses and suddenly, residents who had banded together in support after the tragedy were forced to choose between their two neighbors. The suit was settled out of court last month for $150,000, but Bay Hills, once considered by residents to be a very special place, may never be the same.
As recently as two weeks ago, residents were fighting at a civic association meeting over how to curb speeding along Bay Green Drive. Friendships broken then, are still unmended, and some neighborhood children still have nightmares of their now-dead playmate.
"The wounds have never healed," said Ann Stimson, a former neighbor of the Frieman and Tarr families.
For years, Stimson and about a dozen other parents on Bay Green Drive, where about 50 young children live, had feared that a child would be hit on their residential street because motorists rarely obeyed the posted 25 mph speed limit. County government officials and their own community association ignored their warnings, they said.
Their worst fears were realized about 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 21 when Michelle Frieman, playing with friends at Joseph Tarr's house, decided to go home. She asked Tarr to watch out for her, her 4-year-old brother Geoffrey and another child as they crossed Bay Green Drive.
Stories differ on exactly what happened as the three children waited on the curb. Arnold Frieman's attorneys said Tarr instructed Michelle to cross the street.
Tarr said he told the children to wait because a car -- Maxfield's 1973 Ford -- was coming at a fast clip.
"I screamed 'Don't go' and 'stop, stop, stop' but Michelle continued on and was hit by the . . . vehicle," Tarr recounted in a legal deposition.
The other two children did not cross the street.
The Friemans had not been close to their neighbors, for both of them worked -- Arnold as a computer technician, Janice selling insurance -- and they had little time for social affairs.
But Michelle had played with the neighbors' children and spent afternoons in their homes. When the little girl died, dozens of neighbors turned out for the funeral and pitched in for a catered kosher dinner for the family after the funeral.
The family suffered a second blow a little over two months later, when Janice Frieman died of leukemia. This time, however, there was no catered dinner or outpouring of support. Rumors of Frieman's plans for a suit had spread, outraging mutual acquaintances.
"How could I offer support to Frieman when he was being so malicious as to sue Joe Tarr?" asked Stimson. "Nobody should be blaming Joe for what happened."
Tarr said he tried to understand.
"I always had some empathy for Arnie, for the tragedy his life turned into in a few short months," he said.
What helped assuage his own guilt, Tarr said, was something Janice Frieman told him after Michelle's funeral. "She said, 'Thank God you were there. It could have been all three,' " he recalled.
By summer 1983, Maxfield had been convicted of negligent driving. The Tarrs, as well as Arnold and Geoffrey Frieman, had moved from the neighborhood. Tarr had taken a new job near Cleveland, before Michelle died. Frieman moved into nearby Annapolis.
"He moved because the cars were still speeding on that street. It drove him crazy to have lost his daughter and everyone was still speeding," recalled Robert Katz, Frieman's attorney.
Frieman wasn't alone in that frustration. Two days after Michelle was killed, families in the newer section of Bay Green Drive, where the Friemans lived, organized a march to protest speeding on the street. A few days later, the same group demanded that County Executive James Lighthizer put up more stop signs, speed bumps, no-parking signs and roadblocks.
Lighthizer agreed to most of the requests. Then, residents in older sections of Bay Hills, inconvenienced by the signs, organized their own protest group, blaming Michelle's death on lack of adult supervision rather than traffic control.
"If Frieman had taught his daughter how to cross the street, she wouldn't have been killed," said John Doerzbacher, who, along with others, succeeded in getting many of the new traffic signs removed.
The battle lines were drawn. Some neighbors, who asked that their names not be used for fear of new insults, said they were verbally attacked by others in the community for either opposing or supporting changes.
One couple dropped out of a longstanding social club and attendance at the annual Christmas party fell dramatically from about 200 people in prior years to approximately 40 last year.
In an attempt to heal the split, Kendrick Wentzel, acting president of the Bay Hills Community Association, and other community leaders appointed a traffic safety committee, with Doerzbacher as its chairman, to poll residents for a solution.
Wentzel, who lives in an older neighborhood, took over the community association after the former president became fed up and refused another term. He remembers a meeting held right after the accident that deteriorated into a name-calling match.
"I've never had extreme obscenities shouted at me," he said.
Efforts at conciliation appeared to be working over most of the last year, Wentzel said. Many of the recommendations made by the community through the traffic safety committee were implemented by the county. A knoll that residents believed to be dangerous was leveled, for example, signs were added and police regularly patrolled the street and ticketed speeders.
But two weeks ago, as the suit was slated for trial, tempers flared and the factions clashed again. The traffic safety committee itself became an embattled third faction.
At a community association meeting, resident Sue Estep accused the committee and the county of not doing enough about cut-through traffic on Bay Green Drive.
"Here we are a year and nine or 10 months later with no improvement in my opinion," Estep said later.
But drivers from other parts of Arnold are not what scares Wentzel. County statistics indicate that 85 percent of speeding motorists on Bay Green Drive are Bay Hills residents.
"The problem," he says, "is us."