2 Killed, 15 Injured 

in Chain of Beltway Crashes

by Clarence Williams and Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
You may find this news story right here
Thursday, May 31, 2007

A police attempt to stop a speeding motorcycle touched off a gruesome series of collisions on both sides of the Capital Beltway in Prince George's County last night, killing two people and injuring 15 others, including two officers.

The seven-vehicle pileup, one of the Beltway's most violent in recent memory, closed down all lanes of the inner loop in the Forestville area for nearly five hours and snarled traffic on both sides of the highway late into the night.

"I've been in law enforcement a long time and have been on a number of tough scenes. And this is a tough scene," said Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High. "Your thoughts go to [the injured and dead], and their families and friends."

The accident was set in motion about 7 p.m. when a Prince George's police cruiser chasing the motorcycle on the outer loop near the Ritchie Marlboro Road exit slammed into a vehicle after the motorcycle cut in front of the car, police said.

The force of the impact caused the car to go airborne over the median's guardrail and into oncoming traffic on the inner loop. That caused a chain-reaction crash involving five southbound cars.

The motorcycle sped off, and its driver remained at large, police said.

Details about the two dead were unavailable last night. The 15 injured were taken to hospitals; one of them was said to be in critical condition.

The collisions left vehicles strewn across the inner loop. One vehicle was overturned and bent like an accordion. Police said it was a sport-utility vehicle, but it was no longer identifiable. Rescuers ripped the tops off of at least two cars to free their occupants, said Cpl. Stephen Pacheco.

The officers involved in the crash were traveling in two vehicles, officials said. One was pursuing the motorcycle; the other was off-duty and heading home on the inner loop.

High said both officers were seriously injured, but the off-duty officer was hurt more severely. He was being treated last night at Prince George's Hospital Center. Neither officer's injuries were believed to be life-threatening, Pacheco said.

Traffic on the Beltway was at a standstill for hours. The inner loop was closed near Exit 13, the ramp for Ritchie Marlboro Road.

High said police captured the pursuit and ensuing crash with a video camera in a cruiser. Authorities will use the footage to try to identify the motorcycle and its driver, he said. Police also interviewed several witnesses.

Pacheco said some lanes of the Beltway near the crash scene will be closed after the morning rush today as the investigation continues. The closures were expected to start about 10 a.m.

The officer who pursed the motorcycle has been put on administrative leave, authorities said. Neither officer was immediately identified.

The accident "illustrates the problem we have with speed and what can happen in an instant," High said.

Another link to this story still active on CBS as of October 3, 2018, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/05/31/national/main2869486.shtml

Facts Please

Washington Post Editorial
You may find this editorial right here. 
June 16, 2007

ANOTHER terrible crash on the Capital Beltway: Four young women were killed and a fifth was injured Thursday night; three of the victims had graduated from West Potomac High School only hours before. Our hearts go out to the families.

Meanwhile, nearly three weeks have passed since a seven-vehicle pileup on the Beltway claimed two lives, and we know little more about what happened now than we did the night of May 30.

At the time, police told reporters that an officer was chasing a motorcyclist and, in the process, rammed another vehicle, which sailed over a median rail and onto the Beltway's inner loop. Five other cars traveling in the inner loop then crashed. The driver and passenger in the car that jumped the median both died, and 15 people were injured. The officer who allegedly gave chase is on administrative leave. There is a video record of the matter, caught by a camera in the police cruiser, but the motorcyclist is still at large.

The next day, the Prince George's County police department would not confirm for a Post reporter that the cruiser was even chasing the motorcycle, and a June 1 news release stated only that the cruiser was "following a speeding motorcycle." Police officials have said little more since. Investigators closed off parts of the Beltway last Sunday to reconstruct the accident, and a standard administrative investigation of the officer's conduct is underway.

The accident brings up a host of questions, not least the issue of when police should give chase, an inherently dangerous activity that can, under certain circumstances, do far more harm than good. It is unclear whether the officer in this case had good reason to pursue the motorcyclist (if, indeed, he was pursuing). The Prince George's police will not say what, if anything, the officer has told them about the accident. Nor will they release the video or say what, if anything, it reveals. And they refuse to give any indication of when any of this information might become public.

We understand that police are in the middle of what may be a long investigation. But by now they ought to have established some basic facts about the case: Did the officer radio in to report a chase? Did he give a reason for pursuing the motorcycle? If so, did it conform with department policy? These basic questions should be answered publicly.