The accident in which a Baltimore husband and wife were killed when their car plunged into the chilly waters of Lake Montebello on Friday could have been caused by a malfunctioning car or a heart attack, police said yesterday.
Investigators have ruled out foul play in the deaths of Richard and Concettina Herring, whose 1986 Audi plunged into the lake shortly after 9 p.m.
"There are no obvious signs of foul play," said police spokesman Agent Rob Weinhold. "Traffic investigators are working on this, and homicide investigators are being kept informed of the situation."
Police have determined that Mr. Herring was behind the wheel when the car accelerated and crashed into the lake. One possibility is that he had a heart attack and accidentally stomped on the gas pedal.
Final autopsy results will not be complete for at least a week.
A witness to the accident, a man who was walking his dog, told police that he saw the Herrings' car come almost to a stop before it abruptly sped forward, crossing about 20 yards of pavement. Then, he said, it jumped a curb, tore through a chain-link fence and plowed through bushes before sinking into the lake.
Police said they found the car in 20 feet of water.
In 1987, a quarter-million Audi 5,000 series cars built between 1978 and 1986 were recalled after dozens of complaints of sudden acceleration. Federal traffic safety officials began investigating after complaints about the car's automatic transmission and the lack of a shift-locking device. Five deaths and 271 injuries were attributed to the problems.
It was unclear last night which model Audi the Herrings owned and whether it had any record of problems related to the recall, police and family members said.
Police and relatives also said they did not know whether Mr. Herring had a history of heart trouble.
Jeff Hake, Mrs. Herring's son by a previous marriage, said the passenger-side window was down and the door was open when police pulled the car from the water.
"I think she must have gotten out of the car and was in the lake," he said.
"She was a wonderful mother," he said.
Mr. Herring, 61, owned Herring Contracting Co. Inc., a home improvement company in Baltimore. He and his wife, 53, lived in the 6200 block of Hilltop Ave.
Earlier in the evening, neighbors had noticed the Herrings leaving their Northeast Baltimore home for dinner. Both were dressed as if for a celebration. After waving goodbye to neighbors, they drove to Tio Pepe restaurant.
Isabel Lankford, Mr. Herring's mother, said her son and daughter-in-law had gone out to dinner with a couple who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
Police recovered the Audi early Saturday afternoon. They said they found nothing unusual in the car.