Baltimore police are investigating whether the deaths of a city contractor and his wife, whose car abruptly sped into Lake Montebello Friday night, were an accident.
A bystander told police he watched the Audi sedan carrying Richard and Concettina Herring accelerate and speed into the lake shortly after 9 p.m. The car immediately sank in 20 feet of frigid water.
"Right now I think everyone is at a loss to explain why the vehicle went in the water," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman. "We haven't ruled anything out."
Mr. Herring, 61, owned the Herring Contracting Co. Inc., a small, 20-year-old home improvement company in Baltimore. He and his wife, 53, lived in the 6200 block of Hilltop Ave., and had been married four or five years, according to friends and neighbors.
Earlier in the evening, neighbors had noticed when the Herrings departed from their Northeast Baltimore home for dinner. Both were dressed as if for a celebration, she in a sequined evening dress. After waving goodbye to neighbors, they drove to Tio Pepe restaurant. The accident apparently occurred less than an hour after they left the restaurant.
Police recovered the Audi early yesterday afternoon from a spot 15 to 20 yards from the shore. They said they found nothing unusual in the car.
A witness to the accident, a man who was walking his dog beside the lake, told police that he saw the Herrings' car come almost to a stop before accelerated across 20 yards, jumped a curb, tore through a chain-link fence, plowed through bushes and sank into the lake.
It's unclear who was driving or whether the driver tried to brake VTC or slow the car before reaching the water, police said.
"A lot of answers will come from the autopsy," said Sgt. Paul Davis. "It could be anything from a heart attack that caused him to crash, to the car malfunctioning."
The autopsies were incomplete yesterday, but police said there were no outward signs of foul play.
No notes or letters have been found that suggest suicide. But police say they will investigate that possibility.
"We will actively talk to immediate family members, relatives and friends to determine if there was anything in the Herrings' personal lives that might explain why these events transpired," Agent Weinhold said.
Friends and neighbors of the couple yesterday said the marriage had troubles and that Mrs. Herring had moved out of and back into the home more than once.
"I guess they loved each other enough to get back together each time," said one neighbor.
The two wed after the death of Mr. Herring's first wife, Jacqueline.
Neighbors interviewed said they were not well acquainted with Mrs. Herring, but all described Mr. Herring as popular and affable.
Harold Lurz moved into a home 36 years ago that Mr. Herring helped to build. And over the years, he continued to hire Mr. Herring. Besides home construction, Mr. Herring's company took on many smaller jobs, including building decks and replacing roofs.
"He was just a very honest and very nice man," Mr. Lurz said. "He was well-liked by everybody in the neighborhood. Practically everybody gets their work done by him."
The Rev. Thomas Tewes, a longtime friend of Mr. Herring and a priest at Our Lady of Hope in Dundalk, described him as virtually unflappable.
"He was a mild, quiet-spoken fellow," Father Tewes said. "I very rarely saw him get angry or upset."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.