The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Crash killing 3 children renews safety concerns on one of Md.’s most dangerous roads

Legislators and law enforcement called on drivers to exercise extra car e on Indian Head Highway after a crash that killed three children last weekend again raised safety concerns about one of the busiest and most dangerous roads in the Washington region.

Prince George’s County officials and Maryland state delegates also announced they would be pursuing legislation in coming months to increase the number of speed cameras along the 13-mile stretch of state highway.

“This is a death trap that should not be so,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks said. “This is a state road. We will be working with the governor and with the state who also have a responsibility to make sure that our families are safe when they’re driving down this road.”

The crash on Sunday killed 5-year-old twins and their 13-month-old brother who were heading home from church services, Alsobrooks said.

The children — twins Alexander and Rosalie Mejia, and their younger brother Isaac — were in a sedan when a speeding pickup truck slammed into them from behind near Wilson Bridge Drive in the Oxon Hill area, police said. The impact was so violent the car’s roof was ripped off and the truck’s front tires tore into the back seat where the children were killed upon impact, police said.

The deaths of the Mejia children bring the total number of fatalities on Indian Head Highway to five for 2018, according to data from the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration.

AAA regularly calls Indian Head Highway one of the most dangerous roadways in the Washington region, with only the Baltimore-Washington Parkway listed as more deadly, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Obie Patterson, a former Prince George’s County Council member for the Fort Washington area and current state Sen.-elect, said the highway, also known as Route 210, is one of the most lethal highways in Maryland. He has been working for 20 years to get the state to improve it, he said.

Three children in car killed when speeding pickup hits them from behind

“It’s a state highway. It’s the state’s responsibility. This is a crisis and it ought to be treated as such,” Patterson said.

The county installed a red-light camera, the first on the highway, in early 2018. Patterson said he had been trying to get multiple cameras on the road for years, but had been unsuccessful. Patterson said state officials would only authorize one camera. The camera is located about a half a mile south of where the collision that killed the children occurred.

Townsend said only the state can install or approve cameras on the highway — with the exception of school zones — because it is a Maryland road.

Between 2007 to 2018, 65 people have died in crashes on Indian Head Highway, according to Townsend, with seven of those fatalities occurring in 2017.

Townsend said all five of the 2018 fatal crashes occurred within half a mile of each other between Wilson Bridge Drive and Kirby Hill Road, which is currently a construction zone to make way for an interchange.

He also noted if the driver in the crash that killed the three siblings “were indeed drunk then all the safety precautions and all the safety protocols you put into place maybe could not have prevented that crash.”

But Indian Head Highway for decades has been a safety concern, Townsend and community leaders said.

About 75,000 vehicles a day use the road on average on the nearly 13-mile long highway, state statistics show. The road begins with four lanes near Charles County and goes to six lanes near the Beltway, and it has a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit for much of its length, according to state information.

“The infrastructure on 210 lends itself to poor outcomes,” said Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski. Prince George’s County police have stepped up enforcement efforts in the area, issuing more than 10,000 citations and pulling over 700 drivers in the past three years.

Cars were speeding and weaving before crash that killed minivan driver

The road is particularly fraught because it has some of the straightest roads in the metro area with traffic lights that prompt abrupt stops, Townsend said. Drivers ride on shoulders and speed to beat lights to get around the congested road. The highway also serves both as a major thoroughfare for the metro region and residential street for surrounding neighborhoods.

Indian Head Highway is also the site of an infamous illegal drag race in 2008 that left eight people dead.

Stawinski said the driver who crashed into the Mejia family has had his license suspended and the department is working with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office to review charges in the matter.

“What’s so tragic about this is not only the loss of precious young lives but the fact that the neighborhood association, civil association and community have been trying for three years or more to make it safer,” Townsend said.

After years of lobbying, a long-awaited speed camera for the highway flipped on in October.

Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George’s) pushed the legislation for the first camera and plans to ask for more in the coming legislative session set to start next week. Valderrama said this year’s legislation would also allow the already-approved speed camera to move to different spots along the road.

Valderrama said it was an “uphill battle” to get one speed camera approved last year.

“When people hear speed cameras they hear money generator,” Valderrama said. “If it’s a money generator so be it. The whole point of this is to save lives.”