A woman riding with her husband and two children was killed when their car collided with a fire truck racing to the scene of a blaze in Northeast Washington yesterday, authorities said.
Cathleen Gilchrist, 36, of the 3600 block of 18th Street NE, was in the front passenger seat, which was crushed by the impact. Her two children, who were sitting in the back seat, were pinned and had to be rescued by firefighters, who arrived at the scene almost immediately.
Witnesses said the children's father, Vernon Gilchrist, 37, got out of the car and stood in shock as rescue workers tended to his family and the firefighters who were injured.
The collision occurred about 8 a.m. at 15th and D streets NE. Police said the firetruck from Engine Company 8, traveling north on 15th Street, was responding to a report of a fire in a house on the 1200 block of Oates Street NE.
Witnesses said the sound of the crash was preceded by a prolonged screech, apparently the brakes being applied by the truck's driver. Skid marks that measured more than 60 feet were evident on 15th Street, just south of the intersection.
"As they got closer, suddenly you could hear this prolonged squeal of rubber," said Adam Oliphant, the owner of a business on the corner and one of the first people on the scene.
"I heard the sirens, then I heard this squealing, and then I heard two bangs, like little explosions," said Levi Connally, who lives near the intersection.
Police said the accident is under investigation, and no charges have been filed. The car driven by Vernon Gilchrist was traveling east on D Street. There is a traffic light, but it was unclear whether the Gilchrists' car had the green light. Regardless, police said, cars must yield to emergency vehicles.
The truck's driver, Francis Dennis Murphy, told officials that he lost consciousness immediately after the impact, apparently after he was struck in the face by an object loosened in the crash.
The truck ran up on the sidewalk on the intersection's northeast corner, and at least two firefighters were thrown. Connally said he looked out a bedroom window and saw one of the firefighters crawling and in pain.
Cathleen Gilchrist was taken to D.C. General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Vernon Gilchrist was listed in stable condition at D.C. General. The two children, Tyrita, 11, and Vernon Jr., 4, were listed in fair condition at Children's Hospital.
Murphy, whose nose was broken, was in fair condition at Washington Hospital Center. Firefighter John Van Hagen, also taken to the hospital, was in good condition.
The Oates Street fire, where four people were briefly trapped on the second floor, was handled by other fire companies. There were no injuries.