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Street race crash kills 8

A car not involved in the contest drives into spectators, Maryland police say. At least 5 others are injured.

February 17, 2008|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An illegal drag race in Maryland turned deadly early Saturday when a car plowed into onlookers gathered on a darkened highway about 20 miles south of the nation's capital, killing eight people and injuring at least five others.

Prince George's County police were investigating the accident in Accokeek, which left bodies scattered along the highway.

Officials said Saturday that the accident occurred about 3 a.m. on a stretch of Route 210 that is popular with street racers. After the racers had passed, investigators said, a white sedan not involved in the contest hit the spectators. Law officers said they were interviewing the driver, who did not appear to be seriously hurt.

"It's probably the worst thing I have seen in my 14 years in the Police Department," said Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a spokesman for the county police.

One witness told the Associated Press that two cars in the race sped past just before another car -- without its lights on -- drove into the crowd of about 50.

"There were just bodies everywhere. It was horrible," said Crystal Gaines, 27.

Gaines said she grabbed her child but couldn't help her father, William Gaines Sr., 61, who was among the dead. "He wasn't breathing. He wasn't moving," she said. "His body was in pieces."

Copeland said Saturday afternoon that police were still looking for the two drivers involved in the race.

In recent years in California, nearly 100 people have died annually as a result of illegal racing, according to state figures.

The phenomenon -- depicted in films and in videos shared over the Internet -- has long troubled authorities, who have tried numerous tactics to deter people from the dangerous competitions, including increased penalties and public outreach campaigns.

In 2003, Los Angeles adopted an ordinance that allows police to seize and destroy the souped-up vehicles that youths often spend thousands of dollars to outfit for racing. The city also can charge spectators at an illegal street race with a misdemeanor.

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noam.levey@latimes.com

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