The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mother and daughter die after being struck by tour bus in downtown D.C.

Police investigate at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW after two pedestrians were struck by a bus around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. (Clarence Williams/The Washington Post)
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The mother and daughter had traveled from one end of the continent to the other to see the White House decorated for Christmas. They visited Arlington National Cemetery to honor their son and grandson, a Marine who served in Afghanistan.

Hours after touring the crimson-colored trees and festive ornaments inside the executive mansion, Monica Adams Carlson, 61, and her mother, Cora Louise Adams, 85, were struck by a tour bus while crossing Pennsylvania Avenue just north of the Mall, near the National Archives and Navy Memorial.

Carlson, the mayor of Skagway, Alaska, a tourist gateway with a population of 1,057, and Adams, who ran a hamburger stand in Elbe, Wa., population 75, died at a hospital. The crash occurred about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the same intersection where two pedestrians were struck by a bus and killed more than a decade ago in similar circumstances.

Carlson’s husband, Robert, described his wife as a “good gal” and “fun-loving.” They met 34 years ago while skiing in Washington state, where he was on the ski patrol and she supervised ski lift operators. He said his mother-in-law was “a person a lot younger in spirit and in action” who “came across as a grumpy old lady, but had a heart of gold.”

Their deaths bring the number of traffic-related fatalities in the District this year to 35 — including 14 pedestrian deaths — up from 30 people in 2017. This year’s tally is the highest since 2008, when 39 people died in traffic-related crashes.

D.C. police said an initial investigation showed the bus — which had no passengers and was operated by Maryland-based Eyre Bus, Tour & Travel — was northbound on Seventh Street when its driver tried to turn left onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

Police said Carlson and Adams were walking north on the west side of the intersection and were in a crosswalk when they were struck. Carlson’s husband said police told him his wife and mother-in-law had a walk signal, which was confirmed by three D.C. police officials familiar with the investigation.

Authorities said no charges had been filed Thursday, but the investigation is continuing. Police said the driver of the bus, who wasn’t identified, cooperated with investigators and tested negative for drugs. Police declined to reveal statements the driver made to authorities.

Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the American Bus Association, said the driver had 18 years of experience. She said Eyre “wishes to express our sorrow and sympathy” to the families, noting that “safe transportation of our customers as well as those we share the road with” is a priority.

The intersection where the collision occurred was the site of a crash involving a Metrobus that killed two women on Valentine’s Day 2007.

A deadly turn at intersection with history of pedestrian peril

Martha S. Schoenborn, 59, and co-worker Sally Dean McGhee, 54, both from Alexandria, were leaving work at the Federal Trade Commission and were in the crosswalk with a walk signal when they were struck. The bus, whose driver was fired, was also northbound and turning left onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

Pedestrians at the time complained that the walk lights didn’t allow enough time to safely cross. On Thursday, the light gave walkers 26 seconds to cross eight lanes of traffic and two bike lanes. One pedestrian become stranded on the median as time expired.

Michael Smith, who works at FedEx and lives in the area, said he thought pedestrians didn’t have enough time to cross. “It’s short,” he said.

Officials with the city’s Department of Transportation said improvements were made after the fatal collision in 2007, including the addition of a left-turn signal onto Pennsylvania Avenue from Seventh Street. They also said a delayed signal for vehicles gives pedestrians extra time to cross the busy street.

Authorities said Thursday they would look at additional improvements for the intersection.

Meanwhile, Carlson’s husband was making plans Thursday to fly to the District to claim the remains of his mother-in-law and wife.

The couple married 34 years ago and moved to Skagway, where they raised their only child, Maxwell, who is 27 and stationed with the Marines in Florida. She had worked as assistant passenger manager for the scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, the town’s biggest employer, and then as director of tour operations for her sister’s business, Skagway Street Car Co., which has a fleet of 1920s-era school buses that take tourists through the town and its Gold Rush-era buildings.

Carlson was elected mayor in a write-in vote in 2017 and has grappled with a dispute between the railroad and cruise ships over access to the town’s waterfront. This week’s trip to Washington — more than 3,600 miles away — was a brief getaway and holiday break from a busy schedule. Planes weren’t flying out of Skagway because of snow and wind, so Carlson took a ferry to Juneau before flying to Seattle.

2 pedestrians hit by bus along Pennsylvania Avenue, suffer life-threatening injuries

Relatives said Carlson and her mother, Adams, had visited the District in years past but had never been inside the White House. Robert Carlson said the White House passes came with the help of a congressman, and he quickly found his wife and mother-in-law rooms at the elegant Willard hotel a block from the White House.

Robert Carlson said he got a good deal, noting his wife was “quite frugal.” He hadn’t talked to them since just after the White House visit and knew only of a few places they had visited — including several memorials.

He called Adams “a pretty patriotic lady” who was married to her husband, Gayle, for 68 years. They lived in Elbe at the foot of Mount Rainier, where she ran a food stand called Scale Burgers in a former highway truck weigh station.

“She was the rock,” Robert Carlson said. “There is a big hole in the little town of Elbe today.”

Up north in Skagway, the small community issued a statement noting their mayor's passing in a “tragic accident.” The statement called her death a “devastating loss to Monica’s family, friends, and community.”

Blaine Mero, the office administrator of the Skagway Chamber of Commerce, knew Monica Carlson for 30 years, working with her on various issues in town. He said she enjoyed the outdoors and hiking, as well as traveling with her mother.

“They liked each other’s company,” Mero said. “They were good friends, very close.”

Mero said he heard about their deaths from a friend and went online to learn more. “It’s a sad, somber day here. None of us can believe it,” he said. “She was tenacious. She knew her stuff. She truly wanted the best for the community.”

Mero said Carlson would sometimes stop into the office to chat. He said the news of the deaths was shocking to the community, especially given its close-knit feel. The town is four blocks wide and 22 blocks long.

Nether Skagway nor Elbe have traffic lights. But Skagway, a gateway for heading into the Yukon and Alaska’s Inside Passage, does share at least two attributes with the District.

It, too, has tour buses and tourists, an estimated 900,000 visitors each year.

Those two facts haven’t gone unnoticed in Skagway.

“It’s just so shocking,” Mero said. “We’re surrounded by tour buses six months out of the year. We don’t have things like this happen.”

Luz Lazo and Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.

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