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Race witnesses reluctant to talk

MONDAY, FEB. 18, 2008

WASHINGTON – Investigators in Prince George’s County, Md., struggled to extract information Sunday from stunned and reluctant witnesses in the clandestine illegal racing community as police identified six of the eight men killed when a car plowed into a crowd at a street race early Saturday.

Authorities appealed to spectators and the two racers to come forward, stressing that the priority was to investigate not the race but the accident. By all accounts, the Ford Crown Victoria that struck the crowd was not involved in the race.

“One of the challenges is to get solid information from people who were present,” Police Chief Melvin High said. “Sometimes it takes a little time for people to come to terms with it, and then they come forward with information.”

County Executive Jack Johnson, a Democrat, said he will meet with officials Tuesday to discuss the investigation and how to gather better intelligence on the illegal racing circuit. “It’s all about prevention – it’s all about preventing a tragedy like this,” he said.

In addition to those killed, at least five spectators were hurt in the incident, which occurred about 3 a.m. when the white sedan drove into the crowd standing in and around Indian Head Highway in Accokeek, Md., said Cpl. Arvel Lewis, a police spokesman.

The sedan’s driver and a passenger, males whose names have not been made public, were also injured. All of those killed were spectators. It ranks as one of the worst accidents caused by a motor vehicle in the Washington region in more than 25 years.

Among the dead, all from Maryland, police identified Blaine Briscoe, 49, of La Plata; Mark Courtney, 33, of Leonardtown; William Gaines, 61, of Nanjemoy; Ervin Gardner, 39, of Oxon Hill; Maycol Lopez, 20, of Gaithersburg; and Daryl Wills, 38, of Clinton. Relatives said Milton Pinkney, 41, of Aquasco was also killed. The eighth victim remained unidentified pending notification of relatives, authorities said.

Senior county officials said Sunday they have sought to disrupt the shadowy street racing culture, whose denizens mobilize by cell phone and word of mouth, gather quietly in the dark, watch a race that lasts a few seconds and disperse before police can respond. Officials said racers are elusive and sophisticated, using lookouts and scanners to evade police.

“It’s one of these secretive things,” Johnson said. “It’s a group of people who go around racing. They race in Prince George’s, in Charles, anywhere they can find urban or rural roads.”

Johnson rejected some community activists’ suggestion that police have not been aggressive enough in cracking down on reckless driving in the rural area. Neighbors, however, said they have long complained to police about reckless driving and speeding on Indian Head Highway (Route 210), particularly by motorcyclists in summer.


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