Teen survivors describe night of partying that killed 3

THE WRONG DECISIONS

June 20, 1993|By Frank Langfitt and Darren M. Allen | Frank Langfitt and Darren M. Allen,Staff Writers

In the final minutes before the crash, the friends argued about what to do.

They were eight teen-agers -- a brother and a sister, cousins and best friends -- speeding through Carroll County at up to 110 mph in a stolen car. They had been drinking much of the night. Two state troopers were behind them.

"Just stop, just stop," yelled Donna Simms to her brother Donny, who was at the wheel.

"Shut up, just shut up," Donny, 16, said.

"Go, just go," said their 17-year-old cousin Anthony Antonio "Tony" Liason. "You got it."

He didn't.

Before Donny could find a spot to pull off Liberty Road, the car swerved and flipped, and six of the eight teen-agers tumbled out. After the sounds of crunching metal and shattering glass had faded into the night, three of the teen-agers, including 15-year-old Donna Simms, lay dead. Dink Diggs and Christopher Norris, best friends for all of their 15 years, also died.

Chris' cousin Melissa "Missy" Costley lay on the shoulder with a broken leg. Her sister Angela Nichole "Nikki" Costley lay on the other side of the road, screaming, with a dislocated hip and road burns.

Donny, who did not have a driver's license, faces charges of drunken driving and three counts of automobile manslaughter. He and his cousins Tony Liason and Danny Barnes also face charges of auto theft and possession of alcohol.

The teen-agers died two weeks ago today.

The night could have ended much differently, but the kids made all the wrong decisions. They crammed into a car, got a case of malt liquor and lost control on a dark empty road.

"What were they thinking?" said Soloman Lynch, after his friend Chris' funeral.

The episode began Friday, June 4, in a Maryland Rail Commuter lot in Gaithersburg. Helen L. Martin, who works for a Washington insurance company, parked her 1991 Toyota Corolla there that morning. When she returned in the afternoon, all that remained was shattered glass.

The next evening, Donny Simms and Tony Liason arrived in a car at the Gaithersburg home of their friends Missy and Nikki Costley.

The sisters are the only survivors of the crash not charged with crimes, and the only ones willing to talk about the accident. Tony's and Danny's attorneys, Joseph E. Stolz Jr. and Alan Katz, both of Gaithersburg, said the boys' families had no comment on the accident. William T. Wood of Rockville, Donny's attorney, declined to talk about the accident, as did Donny's father, Arthur.

'Whose car is this?'

In an account that closely matches initial accident reports by state police, Missy and Nikki described what happened that Saturday night:

Donny and Tony planned to drive the girls to a dance in Mount Airy. When their mother, Bonnie, saw the car, she wondered whose it was. She was told that it belonged to Tony's girlfriend.

The teen-agers headed up Route 27 toward the Putt N Fun, a Mount Airy arcade that held weekend dances. Along the way, Missy switched from the back seat to the front and noticed that the steering column had a hole in it. Donny and Tony, she says, used a pair of needle-nose pliers as an ignition key.

"We were like, 'Whose car is this?' " Missy said.

"Don't worry. Don't worry," she recalled Tony saying.

Dink and Chris had spent that Saturday afternoon as they often did, riding dirt bikes with Dink's father in Carroll County. In the evening, they walked to the Putt N Fun. The group met sometime after the dance started at 8 p.m.

Mixed feelings

Dink and Chris had spent nearly every weekend of the past year at Putt N Fun. The arcade-cum-indoor miniature golf course is a magnet for students from South Carroll High, where Dink, Donna and Donny went to school.

Parents have mixed feelings about the place. In March, 25 police officers broke up a fight in the arcade's parking lot involving a mob of about 75 people.

Only 20 or so teen-agers went to the dance that Saturday. No more than a half-dozen danced at any time to the rap, reggae, and rhythm and blues tunes. The most excitement came when Nikki and Donna got into a fistfight with two girls who Nikki said had mouthed off to them.

During the night, the teen-agers and other friends went into the ++ woods nearby to drink 40-ounce bottles of St. Ides malt liquor. Missy and Nikki said they did not know where their friends had obtained the alcohol. Police have not arrested anybody for buying the teen-agers alcohol, but say they have narrowed the search to one person.

Sneaking out

Around 11 p.m., most of the group of friends piled into the Toyota and headed for the Mount Airy home of Chris, Missy and Nikki's grandmother. There, the sisters picked up their 4-month-old brother, L. J.

Chris, described by some as a relatively straight-laced boy, stayed in the car.

"He had been drinking, and he was scared that my grandmother would find out," Missy said.

The friends dropped Missy, Nikki and L. J. back home in Gaithersburg. Mrs. Costley said she discovered Nikki had been drinking, lectured her and sent her to bed.

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