The SUV that police said fled a traffic stop on Rock Creek Parkway early Wednesday and collided with a sedan — killing that car’s three occupants — had more than 40 outstanding traffic tickets with fines totaling $12,300, according to the District’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.
U.S. Park Police, releasing new details about the deadly crash, said Thursday that police tried to stop the driver of the SUV around 1:30 a.m. for a speeding violation that the officer saw.
The driver then fled and collided with the sedan shortly after, killing three men inside, according to U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Thomas Twiname.
NBC4 and Fox 5 previously reported the SUV’s prior tickets. The Washington Post used footage of the license plate from Fox 5 to link the vehicle to the tickets.
U.S. Park Police on Thursday released the names of the victims: Mohamed Kamara, 42, of Burtonsville, Md.; Jonathan Cabrera Mendez, 23, and Olvin Torres Velasquez, 22, both of Arlington.
Efforts to reach their families were not successful.
The two occupants of the SUV, a man and a woman, were transported to hospitals with injuries initially believed not to be life-threatening, though Twiname said the woman’s injuries were critical.
Under D.C. law, there are limited tools to enforce some categories of traffic violations, particularly those issued as part of the city’s camera enforcement program. The city does not issue driver’s license points from speed cameras because the technology in the District, like in many other jurisdictions, does not take pictures of the individual drivers. That means vehicles can rack up fines over a period of time — which the car’s owners are responsible for paying — but the person or people driving those cars can maintain their licenses.
The District can boot, tow and seize vehicles that have two or more tickets that remain unpaid and uncontested after 30 days if employees with city’s towing and booting authority spot the vehicle parked in a public space. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) last year also called for more resources for that program, which was included in this year’s fiscal budget.
Last year, Christina Henderson (I-At Large) introduced a bill that would use traffic cameras to assess points on a driver’s license. It died in committee.
That proposal was part of various traffic safety measures the council discussed in the fall as concerns grew over dangerous driving incidents. Some lawmakers said that while issuing tickets to violators is a good strategy, it’s more critical to ensure those tickets are enforced.
The city council in 2022 passed a law that would have allowed people to renew their driver’s licenses even if they had unpaid traffic fines, despite several council members’ concerns that leniency could worsen unsafe driving in the District. The law was not set to go into effect until October 2023, but then a federal judge’s ruling in a separate case forced the city to stop disqualifying residents with unpaid fines from getting or renewing licenses.
In 2015, Bowser launched an initiative with a pledge to eliminate traffic deaths by 2024, according to a report by the Office of the D.C. Auditor released Thursday. Instead, the number of fatalities rose in nearly every subsequent year — reaching a 14-year high in 2021, when 40 people were killed on D.C. streets.
So far this year, nine people have been killed in crashes in the city, D.C. records show.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said the Rock Creek Parkway crash also highlights the need for better street design, noting that many corridors are designed to move cars at great speed.
“We have whole swaths of our city that are designed to simply move vehicles as quickly as we can, not ‘how do we move people around safely?’ And that’s a design issue,” he said. The District’s transportation department, he said, should be more aggressive in rebuilding streets to be safer spaces.
Monika Mathur and Cate Brown contributed to this report.