February 17, 2008 in Nation/World

Eight killed when car hits crowd watching street race

Stephen Manning Associated Press
 

ACCOKEEK, Md. – A car plowed into a group of street-racing fans obscured by a cloud of tire smoke on a highway Saturday, killing eight people and scattering bodies in the early morning darkness.

At least five others were injured in the gruesome wreck along a flat, isolated stretch of highway about 20 miles south of Washington known for illegal races.

About 50 people were gathered before dawn along Route 210 as two cars spun their wheels, kicked up smoke and sped off, said Prince George’s County police Cpl. Clinton Copeland.

Fans had spilled onto the smoky, dark road to watch the cars drive away when a white Ford Crown Victoria unexpectedly came up from behind and smashed into them.

“There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible,” said Crystal Gaines, 27, of Indian Head, whose father was killed.

Police interviewed the Crown Victoria driver, but no charges were pending, Copeland said. Authorities were looking for the drivers of the two cars involved in the race.

The combination of the smoke and the dark morning likely meant the unsuspecting driver could not see the crowd, police said. A tractor-trailer that came by shortly afterward may also have struck someone on the roadside as it tried to avoid the crash scene, according to investigators.

Bodies covered by white sheets lay in the road and on the shoulder across a 50-foot stretch of the road later Saturday morning before they were removed by the medical examiner.

Shoes were strewn about in the grass, and a pair of dark skid marks scarred the highway.

“It’s probably one of the worst scenes I’ve seen,” Copeland said. “This is a situation that could have been avoided, and it’s a very tragic situation.”

About 50 people were watching the race, Gaines said, and she saw the Crown Victoria approach without its lights on. She grabbed her daughter, pulling the girl to safety. But her father, William Gaines Sr., 61, had a broken leg, and was not able to get away in time. Afterward, she found his body on the road.

“He wasn’t breathing; he wasn’t moving,” Gaines said. “His body was in pieces.”

Her brother, William Gaines Jr., was also there. The car came through so fast that “it just ripped people apart,” he said.

Route 210 is a thoroughfare with few traffic lights along the stretch where the accident occurred. The road is flanked by some businesses but has little traffic in the early morning, Copeland said. The speed limit is 55 miles per hour.

Police said that street races are not uncommon on the stretch of road. Relatives said some of the victims often went to see races held late at night on isolated stretches of road.

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