Why pair plunged into lake remains a mystery Autopsy finds driver did not have heart attack

February 08, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The mystery of the couple whose car plunged 20 feet into the chilly waters of Lake Montebello two months ago will remain a mystery.

An autopsy concluded that Richard and Concettina Herring drowned. Dr. Theodore King, an assistant state medical examiner, said yesterday the victims also experienced hypothermia, which contributed to their deaths.

Although Mr. Herring, the driver of the 1986 Audi 5000, suffered from a heart problem, final tests show he did not have a heart attack before the accident, Dr. King said.

The doctor said that Mr. Herring, 61, who was driving, had scarring on his heart and suffered from an irregular heartbeat.

"This is an unusual case and complicated," Dr. King said. "It's unusual because we don't have cars going into the lake every day. And it's complicated because there are many factors at play here."

The doctor was referring to the many questions that still surround the couple's deaths -- the driver's health, the condition of the car "and then, of course, any questions of what might have been [Mr. Herring's] motivations."

The incident occurred about 9 p.m. Dec. 29. 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.

It then jumped a curb, tore through a chain-link fence and plowed through bushes before sinking into the lake, he said.

Initially, police said the incident could have been caused by a heart attack or a mechanical defect in the car. But the Maryland State Police Auto Safety Equipment Division found nothing wrong with the car.

And now the medical examiner's office says the victims' health most likely did not play a role in the crash.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman, said that unless investigators receive new information, the case is closed. "We are treating it as an accident," he said.

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