The crash in Charles County that killed three men and sent two to the hospital over the weekend appears to have been caused by high speed and driver error, state police said yesterday.
The accident occurred about 12:12 a.m. Sunday when Jason T. Pasternak, 22, of Waldorf was driving his Mitsubishi Lancer up a hill on Bensville Road in the Pomfret area with four passengers.
"He was going too fast around a turn. He overcorrected and went off the road," said Lt. Randy Stephens, commander of the state police barracks in La Plata.
Stephens said there are "indications that there was alcohol involved, but no indication that it was the driver who was drinking." He did not provide more information and said it could be a month before police receive an autopsy report.
Pasternak and front-seat passenger Mark E. Ryon Jr., 20, of Port Tobacco died at the scene. Nicholas R. Falco III, 22, of La Plata, who was in the back seat, was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center, where he died of his injuries.
Two other back-seat passengers, Shawn M. Burnette, 19, of Port Tobacco and Kevin D. Jobe, 21, of La Plata, were taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Jobe was listed in critical condition last night, and Burnette was in fair condition, the hospital said.
Sunday's accident marked the 23rd fatal car crash this year in Charles and the 27th, 28th and 29th fatalities in such accidents, according to figures provided by the sheriff's office and state police. Last year, 17 people died in 15 car accidents in the county. If the current rate of fatalities continued this year, the county would pass its record of 33, set in 1995.
"We can enforce all the laws and stop a lot of violators, but we're not going to catch them all," county Sheriff Frederick E. Davis said at a news conference. "This accident hit home for me because the driver of that vehicle was my kid's supervisor. . . . That [crash] caught kids' attention."
Pasternak was a manager at the Ledo Pizza restaurant off Route 301 in La Plata, where he had worked his way up from the kitchen. Burnette had worked in the kitchen for three years, and Falco and Jobe had worked on and off there for about two years, owner Don Mister said.
"Jason came in here as a boy and he left as a man," Mister said.
Pasternak, who had hoped to open a Ledo Pizza in Leonardtown with Mister, worked the day shift Saturday.
"If they were all my sons, I'd be a happy father," Mister said.
Falco's stepfather, Frank Pruss, said Falco was a happy and popular young man who had started working under contract at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service a few months ago. "He was very excited about his job," Pruss said.
The stepfather said the men were probably going to Ledo Pizza at the time of the accident.
At the scene of the crash, nearly 30 bouquets covered the steep embankment where the car left the two-lane, winding road. Dozens of the men's friends stopped by, including Jamie Richards, 19, who dated Pasternak in 2003 and had worked with him at the restaurant.
"It's hard to see him go. It's a shock to everyone," Richards said. She said Pasternak and Falco loved racing cars. "They would go down to the track a lot. They were really into cars."
Aubrey Prince, 21, was digging through the dirt with a stick yesterday afternoon, trying to recover the men's jewelry for their families. In her hand she held a long gold chain that had suddenly taken on special meaning. She said it belonged to Pasternak.
"You see it every day on him," she said, "and you don't realize it."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.