Officer Reginald Fenner was patrolling Rte. 1 near College Park early yesterday when he saw a woman standing in the middle of an intersection directing traffic with a pink curling iron.
It was 3:26 a.m.
The woman "talked and acted strangely," a Prince George's County police spokesman said, and when Fenner approached her she lunged for the gun in his holster. In the struggle, Fenner tripped and fell. The woman climbed in his cruiser with its lights flashing and took off, police said, barely missing Fenner, who was still lying in the road.
Nineteen minutes and about 30 miles later, she was captured, but not before leading police on a chase down Rte. 1 into the heart of the District and back into Prince George's County via Pennsylvania Avenue.
Near Forestville, she rear-ended a county police car that was trying to slow her down, jumped the median, and finally landed in a ravine after slamming the engine out of a state police car in her path.
" 'Smokey and the Bandit', huh?" said county police spokesman Bob Law, referring to Burt Reynolds' 1977 cornball chase movie. "Here it is in real life with all those police cars and lights."
Police identified the woman as Cheryl Renae Jackson, 23, of 1428 Saratoga Ave. NE. Jackson, who was admitted to Prince George's General Hospital for observation, was charged with three counts of attempted murder. She was being held in lieu of $75,000 bond.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the incident, police said yesterday, was that no one was seriously injured, despite speeds that reached as high as 90 mph and the involvement of a total of 25 police cars from several jurisdictions at various points along the route. Although traffic was light at that hour, police felt fortunate that no innocent motorists were involved in the chase.
"Luckily, everybody saw the red flashing lights and got out of the way," Law said. "They probably thought the fleeing woman was a police officer on the way to an emergency."
Police gave the following account:
When Fenner saw the woman waving the curling iron at Rte. 1 and Queen's Chapel Road, he stopped his cruiser, leaving the keys in the ignition to keep the emergency lights flashing. While the road was almost deserted, a few cars were passing and the woman was standing in a dangerous spot at the top of a hill. Fenner was working alone.
After taking his car, the woman sped south toward the District on Rte. 1. Two other county police cars gave chase before the car had gone a mile. Other police departments eventually joined in the chase, including District police, Maryland State Police, and officers from the small towns of Colmar Manor and Cottage City. The car took Rhode Island Avenue to the heart of the District, then Pennsylvania Avenue which becomes Rte. 4 in Prince George's County.
On Rte. 4, county police Cpl. Joe E. Archibald tried to create "a running roadblock" by driving in front of the fleeing car to slow it down. But instead of slowing its 80-mph pace, the car rear-ended Archibald's cruiser, then lurched out of control across the median.
At that point, the car was going east in the westbound lane of Rte. 4. At the intersection of Donnell Drive, it again went out of control, struck a curb, and sailed into a state police car driven by Cpl. Robert (Skippy) Stein. The stolen cruiser slid another 250 feet, destroyed several traffic signs, and came to rest in a small ravine. The woman was slightly injured and gave no further resistance.
All things considered, the tally of damages was relatively slight, police said. Both the stolen cruiser and the state police car were destroyed. Fenner suffered bruises, and Archibald was treated for a sprained neck. Stein, who credits his seat belt with saving his life when the crash knocked the engine out of his cruiser, also was treated for neck injuries