Nowhere to run

July 21, 1995

Drug abuse. Drive-by shootings. Child abuse. Drunken driving. Horseplay. Accidental death snatches young people prematurely in so many forms, but the circumstances many times seem bizarre, or at least beyond the comforting boundaries of most people's everyday existence.

But four children, ages 3 to 8, get mowed down by a speeding car on the sidewalk at a bus stop, while awaiting a ride to the sitter's, accompanied by adults and singing a little song, and the calamity leaves a more lasting fear and a hollow ache.

Like the four children and one adult killed at that bus stop by a runaway sports car near the headquarters of the Social Security Administration, the defensive reflex of the mind that reassures us such things won't happen to us has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Yesterday morning's news from Woodlawn reverberated with the painful questions caused by any senseless tragedy, especially one with children bearing the brunt of the impact.

As details trickled out, the story became more wrenching: A 25-year-old woman and two of her children were killed. The woman's sister, 26, standing nearby managed to grab one of her children and jump out of the way, but two of her children were killed. A fifth child and another adult were injured.

The driver of the car passed a field blood-alcohol test, but an investigation is continuing. The driver also had a poor driving record and police estimate his car was traveling at least 50 mph in a 30-mph zone. Not all the details are known. But already the accident is sharpening focus on what for many Marylanders seems to be, at least anecdotally, a greater recklessness on the road, from wild lane changes to tailgating to passing on the shoulders of the interstates.

There is no indemnity against unfathomable fate, against being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The victims had not ventured where they shouldn't, or failed to install a fire detector or wear a seat belt. They were standing on a sidewalk in the apricot light of the birth of another day. The Evening Sun's police reporter at the scene, Peter Hermann, said he was most struck by the eerie serenity of the scene, even after investigators were combing the area of the accident. A quiet morning in the 'burbs, but for the tire tracks connecting a line of bodies under bedsheets.

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