Because of an error by the Fairfax County Police Department, the names and injuries of some of the victims in a Monday night car crash were transposed. Douglas Reader suffered injuries to his lower body; Greg Whalen received head injuries. Reader -- not Whalen -- and the unidentified driver were pinned in the car for five hours. (Published 1/31/91)
More than 30 Fairfax County rescue workers, using ladders and working in shifts, toiled for five hours Monday night and early yesterday in a delicate operation to rescue four injured teenagers from a car that crashed and became lodged in a tree.
The teenagers, all students at Centreville High School, were taken to Fairfax Hospital in stages between 10 p.m. Monday and 3 a.m. yesterday. Last night, Douglas Reader, 17, was in serious but stable condition. The unidentified driver of the Chrysler New Yorker and Greg Whalen, 15, were listed as serious, and Brian Stephens, 15, was described as fair.
The 1987 Chrysler was speeding along hilly Compton Road when the driver lost control of the car, slid for a distance and plowed off an embankment into an evergreen in a muddy field, according to Maj. James A. Covel, the Fairfax police department's night duty officer.
The impact of the crash uprooted the tree, causing the Chrysler to become "nestled there in the roots," Covel said. He estimated that the car, which was at a 45-degree angle, was eight feet off the ground at its highest point.
"Here we have a car perilously perched eight feet above the ground," said Lt. Michael Reilly, the fire department's medical supervisor on the scene. "We had to use ladders to get up to them."
The massive rescue operation involved nearly 50 people from the fire and police departments and included a "blood run," in which units of blood were transported from the hospital to be given to the victims in the car, a practice police spokesman Warren Carmichael described as rare.
Before the crash, the youths were on their way home to Clifton from a movie, according to a source. They were traveling an estimated 75 miles an hour, the source said.
The name of the driver was not released because charges are pending and the driver is a juvenile, Carmichael said. Speed was determined to be a factor in the crash, he said.
Rescue workers, including members of the cave-in unit, had to stabilize the vehicle so that it would not fall from the tree before they could attempt to reach the youths, Reilly said.
Two of the teenagers were removed from the car within the first hour, but the remaining two -- the driver and Whalen -- were pinned in the car for five hours, Reilly said. It was difficult to remove one without harming the other because of the way they were tangled in the wreckage, he said.
As a result, rescue workers on rotating shifts used hand tools to free them, working "inch by inch to peel back the car," Reilly said. "Each time we removed something, we saw another obstacle."
While rescue workers toiled, paramedics -- including one nine feet off the ground -- monitored the youths, reassured them and administered oxygen and fluids, Reilly said. As the night wore on, the youths would ask what was happening to them, he said.
Rescue personnel explained that "they were in a Chrysler New Yorker that was basically entombing them," Reilly said.
Anxious relatives waited at the hospital yesterday, where police said Whalen underwent surgery on his lower body. The driver had multiple injuries, and Reader and Stephens had head injuries, they said.
"They're all good friends," said Charles Martin, director of student activities at Centreville High School, where all the victims are involved in sports. "Just good, clean-cut guys."
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.