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Street-race crash kills 8 in crowd

  • Story Highlights
  • Death toll rises after eighth victim dies at a hospital
  • Driver likely never saw the crowd when he plowed into bystanders, police say
  • Officer: "Probably one of the worst scenes I've ever seen"
  • At least five people were also hurt in the crash
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ACCOKEEK, Maryland (AP) -- Thick smoke and dark conditions likely meant the driver of a car that plowed into a group of people on a suburban road early Saturday, killing eight, never saw the crowd, police said.

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Police investigate the accident scene Saturday in Accokeek, Maryland.

The deadly crash happened when about 50 people who had gathered to watch a drag race spilled onto the highway to watch two racing cars speed off.

Police said the white sedan was not involved in the street race but accidentally drove into the crowd.

"There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible," said Crystal Gaines, 27, whose father was among the dead.

Gaines said she grabbed her child but could not help her father, William Gaines Sr., 61.

"He wasn't breathing, he wasn't moving," she said. "His body was in pieces."

Gaines said the car did not have its lights on, but police could not confirm that.

The white sedan hit people standing on the side of Route 210 around 3:40 a.m., Prince George's County Police Cpl. Clinton Copeland said.

A tractor-trailer that came by shortly afterward may also have struck someone on the road as it tried to avoid the crash, he said.

"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."

The victims ranged in age from their 20s to 60s, police said. Seven people were pronounced dead at the scene, and an eighth died later at a hospital.

At least five people were injured.

Hours after the accident on the divided 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. Video Watch sheet-covered bodies lying along road »

The sedan 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.

The driver of the white sedan had been interviewed and did not appear to be seriously hurt, Police Capt. Donald Frick said. Police said a body found in the car was one of the spectators and not a passenger as they had previously reported.

According to police, two cars had lined up for a race on the smooth and relatively flat and straight stretch of highway. They spun their wheels, kicking up smoke, then sped off, Copeland said. Learn about street racing »

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 white sedan could not see the crowd. No charges were pending.

Authorities were looking for the drivers of the two cars involved in the race.

Authorities were working to identify the victims by showing digital photos of them to bystanders who said loved ones had been hurt. John Courtney said after viewing one of the images that his brother, Mark, 33, was among the dead.

"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."

Investigators had "more questions than answers," Copeland said.

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Route 210 has two lanes in each direction and traffic lights about every 150 to 200 yards in Accokeek, about 20 miles south of Washington. In that area, the road is flanked by some businesses but has little traffic in the early hours, Copeland said.

Frick said it's common in the summer for police to deal with reports of motorcycles racing on the highway, which is relatively smooth with long straightaways, but he said they have not had as much of an issue with cars. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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