An Elkton woman waiting for traffic to clear because of a fatal accident was herself killed yesterday when a speeding car Delaware police were pursuing plowed into her car, causing it to burst into flames.
State police said Deborah Sue Preston, 30, was stopped in a line of traffic on Route 279 to allow a state medevac helicopter to airlift a victim from the earlier crash when her car was hit at 12:55 a.m. and exploded.
Ms. Preston, the mother of a young child, was returning home from a cosmetics business sales meeting in nearby Delaware when the crash occurred about 2 1/2 miles inside the Maryland line, police said.
The initial accident, which took place a few minutes past midnight, had taken the life of Mary C. Crouthmel, 27, also of Elkton, and sent another Elkton woman to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Ms. Crouthmel was a passenger in a car that Lillian A. Phelps, 28, was driving, police said. Ms. Phelps was listed in satisfactory condition last night.
Their car had rammed a tractor-trailer, whose driver continued on, perhaps unaware that his truck had been hit, police said, despite skid marks some 80 feet long.
Police said the fiery, second crash occurred after a Newark, Del., officer began following a speeding 1976 Plymouth Duster being driven erratically.
Investigators described both victims as "innocent" parties and said they were checking into possible alcohol involvement. Cpl. John G. Blades, of the Northeast state police barracks, also said information on the accidents will be forwarded to the Cecil County state's attorney's office.
"They said it was like something you see in the movies," said Corporal Blades. "In my 14 years on the force, I don't believe I have ever seen a car explode like that."
The impact from the Plymouth Duster sent Ms. Preston's flaming 1988 Subaru into two other cars, one of which stopped 200 feet farther along the road, Corporal Blades said. Neither driver of those cars was hurt seriously.
The driver of the Plymouth Duster police were pursuing, Lonnie Duane Church, 36, of North East, was taken to Union Hospital of Cecil County, where he was reported in fair condition last night, a spokeswoman said.