ACCOKEEK, Md. – A car plowed into a crowd that had gathered to watch an illegal street race on a suburban road early Saturday, killing eight people and injuring at least five others, authorities said.
Police said the white Crown Victoria was not involved in the street race but accidentally drove into the crowd of about 50 people that had spilled into the northbound lanes of the divided highway to watch two racing cars speed off.
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"There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible," said Crystal Gaines, 27, of Indian Head.
Gaines grabbed her child but could not help her father, William Gaines Sr., 61, when she saw the Crown Victoria approach. Her father was killed in the crash.
"He wasn't breathing, he wasn't moving," Gaines said. "His body was in pieces."
Gaines said the car did not have its lights on, but police could not confirm that.
Hours after the 3:40 a.m. accident on the divided Route 210 highway in Accokeek, bodies covered in white sheets were scattered along what police were calling a 200-yard crime scene. Some were in the road, while others were on the shoulder.
Prince George's County Police Capt. Donald Frick said "there was a speed event going on" and that the apparent driver of the car had been interviewed and did not appear to be seriously hurt.
The victims ranged in age from their 20s to 60s, police said. Seven people were pronounced dead at the scene, and police say an eighth died later in a hospital.
Police said a body found in the car was one of the spectators and not a passenger as they had previously assumed. The car came to a rest on an embankment about 150 feet from where the crowd had been. It had a crumpled front and hood, and the roof had partially collapsed.
A tractor-trailer truck that came by shortly afterward may also have struck someone on the roadside as it tried to avoid the crash scene, about 20 miles south of Washington, said Cpl. Clinton Copeland.
"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."
In that area, Route 210 is a two-way thoroughfare with two lanes in each direction and traffic lights about every 150 to 200 yards. The road is flanked by some businesses but has little traffic in the early hours, Copeland said.
According to police, two cars had lined up for a race on the smooth and relatively flat stretch of highway. They spun their wheels, kicking up smoke, then sped off, Copeland said. The crowd then moved into the road to watch the cars drive away. The combination of the smoke and the dark morning likely meant the driver of the approaching Crown Victoria could not see the crowd.
Police had interviewed the driver of the Crown Victoria, but no charges were pending, Copeland said. Authorities were also looking for the drivers of the two cars involved in the race.
"That is a main thoroughfare. For people to be standing in the road like that, I don't really know what to say," Copeland said.
John Courtney said his brother, Mark, 33, of St. Mary's County, also was among the dead. He identified his brother from a digital image police had taken.
"He liked going to the race track, watching races," Courtney said. "It's going to take a toll on my family for a long time."
Marion Neal feared her brother also was among the dead and was awaiting images from the police.
"It's a tragedy," she said. "I don't like racing, but that was his hobby."