Three teenage boys returning from a Saturday night trip to a burger joint were waiting for a traffic light to change on Governor Ritchie Highway near Annapolis when a pickup truck struck them from behind, turning their car into a fireball and killing two of them.
"They weren't doing anything wrong. They were just sitting there," said Kay Snyder, mother of David Snyder, 16, one of the victims.
The three 16-year-olds were out enjoying the last moments of the waning summer before each returned to his high school. David, an incoming sophomore at the college preparatory Severn School in Severna Park, died Saturday night from injuries sustained in the back seat of the 1987 Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. Kevin Durm, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High in Severn, was pronounced dead the next morning.
Nick Kirby, the driver, came home yesterday after a brief hospital stay for treatment of a head injury. Friends said the Broadneck High School student suffered a concussion and a burned left hand.
Police said Linda Lee Nichols, 47, the pickup driver, failed a breath test and was handcuffed outside the cab of her Chevrolet Silverado. They declined to divulge the result of the breath test. Nichols has not been charged, pending the outcome of an investigation, said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney.
Nichols could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The teenagers were basketball buddies who hailed from the Anne Arundel bedroom community of Arnold. They had spent Saturday watching a DVD of "Kill Bill Vol. 1" and playing with crabs in the Magothy River before heading out to Wendy's for a late dinner.
When David's parents went out, they left some money for the boys in case they got hungry. Kay Snyder told David to call her cell phone if they left the house. A short while later, David called to say they were leaving. Whether because of noise or poor reception, his mother never heard the call come in, and he left her a message.
The boys drove five miles to Wendy's, got their food and headed back south down Governor Ritchie Highway, a busy north-south thoroughfare between Baltimore and Annapolis that many motorists take at freeway speeds. The youths hit the first stoplight at McKinsey Road, a brightly lit intersection flanked by strip malls, at 9:53 p.m.
Also at that intersection was Richard Lee Martin, idling in his Buick, waiting to cross Governor Ritchie Highway and pick up his grandson after a shift at Dunkin' Donuts. As the teenagers' light turned red, Martin's turned green.
Martin heard squealing brakes. Then he saw the pickup.
"She put on her brakes just before she hit them. She was moving pretty good," recalled Martin, 70. "Just as soon as she hit it, it exploded and fire flew out of there. . . . It came right at me."
The impact with the 6,400-pound pickup drove the 2,200-pound Volkswagen across six lanes of traffic into Martin's Buick, and it ruptured the convertible's fuel tank.
"I looked up and [saw] two people slumped over in the front seat," Martin said. "I didn't see the other one."
That intersection is a hub of activity for teenagers from Arnold and Severna Park, and at that post-dinner hour, a few youths were at the 7-Eleven and Dunkin' Donuts. The crowd that gathered around the wreckage included a few of the boys' classmates, according to their families.
Martin said he watched several young men open the front of the convertible and drag Nick and Kevin from the front seats. Someone ran to the scene with a fire extinguisher and doused the blaze before it could spread inside the vehicle and burn the passengers. A few minutes later, as rescue trucks arrived, Martin heard someone cry, "There's another guy in there." Rescuers pulled David from the back seat.
Police handcuffed Nichols at her pickup, which was stopped 100 feet down the highway. She refused medical treatment. A mandatory breath test showed her blood alcohol level surpassed the legal limit, police said. None of the youths had been drinking anything stronger than Coke, police said. A police synopsis said Nichols had "made no apparent effort to stop" for the red light.
David and Kevin were airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. David was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
Flowers and a teddy bear sat yesterday at the intersection where the accident occurred, all but lost in the din as rescue trucks responded to another bad wreck.
The teenagers had a friendship forged in the youth basketball and soccer leagues in the Broadneck high area of Arnold and Annapolis, a network in which David's father, Larry Snyder, is well-known as a coach.
Family members said David had just made the varsity soccer team at Severn School.
But his first love was basketball, and his favorite player was Michael Jordan. He hoped to follow in his father's path, perhaps as a star athlete at Duke University and then as a trainer or coach.
Kevin, a talented shooting guard, was about to try out for the varsity basketball squad at Archbishop Spaulding.
He "would be out at 2 a.m. playing basketball in the street," recalled Brian Durm, his older brother. According to friends, Kevin would take at least 100 shots in his driveway before every basketball practice.
He played trumpet in the school band and cultivated a relationship with the best friend who had become a girlfriend six months ago.
High school just days away, the boys spent Saturday being kids. They took a live crab from the river and chased David's mother around the house with it until she told them to stop.
At a viewing for David yesterday evening, lanky teammates from the Severn basketball squad dotted the line that stretched out the door, across the parking lot and down the street, blocking traffic.
The largest picture in the room depicted David as a child, a big grin on his face as he stretched his arm up high to dunk a basketball through a net. A classmate brought a basketball signed by David's teammates.
Mark Bennett, 15, had played ball with David for several years and as recently as last Tuesday. He and David were on the same team that day, but it was David, with his aggressive skills, who was making all the shots. David good-naturedly teased Mark about his misses.
"He'd say things that weren't funny, but when he said them, people would laugh," Mark said.
On Sunday, Mark picked up the phone to call David to see if he wanted to catch a movie at the Annapolis Mall, maybe "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
But the phone rang as he held it. It was David's father. That's when Mark found out that his friend was dead.
Other friends and family filed slowly by David's open coffin yesterday. One girl in a striped button-down shirt and flip-flops hung back.
"Oh God, I don't think I can," she said.
Her steps grew slower as she came closer to the coffin. Then she paused, her eyes full of tears, and turned away.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.