'It's still too much pain' for family Questions, anguish remain 1 year after car fatally struck 5

July 20, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Charles Edgar Dorsey IV has a new home and a new route to work, to help quiet the painful memories that linger from the morning of July 20, 1995.

But a year after losing his wife, two daughters, a niece and a nephew in a Woodlawn car crash, he is searching for a new beginning.

"I keep questioning still to this day, why?" said Dorsey, 29.

Added his brother Calvin Dorsey, 31, "I'm looking forward to a time when we can talk about the good times that we had, the fun things we used to do, look at the memories, but it's still too much pain."

The family members were waiting for a bus on Woodlawn Drive, near Social Security Administration headquarters, when a red Mazda MX6 jumped the curb. In seconds, five lifeless bodies were strewn along a grassy hillside: Kim Linair Dorsey, 25; Chanell Chastity Dorsey, 3; Keisha Renee Dorsey, 7; Jazmin Marisa Little, 5; and Darrian Quinton Hough, 10.

Charles E. Dorsey V, 9, and a woman unrelated to the family were injured; Mrs. Dorsey's sister Karen Fields, 28, and Fields' son Michael Hough, 9, were unhurt.

"Those kids," Charles Dorsey said, wiping away tears as he recalled the crash and its aftermath. "I always knew in my heart my kids were something special.

"They were so much full of love and joy and so intelligent, it was unbelievable. I can't express to you what my wife and daughters meant to me."

The pain seemed to penetrate the community. For days after the tragedy, people left stuffed animals and flowers on the hillside overlooking the crash site. And the July 25 funeral attracted hundreds of people, relatives and strangers alike.

In the week after the funeral, Charles Dorsey remained in the family's Woodlawn apartment, blocks from the crash site, where he still could feel his children's presence. But that soon became emotionally draining.

"I never could sleep, and I constantly heard my kids, just laughing," he recalled.

In August, he moved to a garden apartment in Catonsville, accepting his new neighbors' offers of food as housewarming gifts -- and not learning until later that they knew of his ordeal but kept silent to give him time to heal.

He took a leave of three months from his job as an assistant chef at a Holiday Inn in Woodlawn. Upon returning last fall, he mapped out a different route so he would not drive by the crash site.

Before school began, Karen Fields and son Michael moved from Woodlawn to Northeast Baltimore, where they had lived before.

Michael enrolled at Yorkwood Elementary School, where he knew many children.

"He's doing fine," said his maternal grandmother, Irene Green. "He's playing basketball, and he stays active -- his grades and things didn't drop."

He received counseling, but talking about his lost siblings is hard. Discussing the crash is even harder for Fields, who declined to be interviewed, Green said.

Effects of the tragedy were felt last fall at Johnnycake Elementary School, where Keisha would have returned for third grade and Chanell would have entered prekindergarten.

A week before classes, guidance counselor Catherine J. Holt assembled about six of the girls' friends and neighbors so they could express their feelings with words, songs and drawings before returning to school.

"As they discovered they had a lot of pleasant memories, that was what we tried to stress with them," Holt said.

When school began, some children went to the guidance department to air their feelings, she said. "They were still [mourning] the fact that [Keisha] had been with them from pre-K [and] wondering why it would happen to somebody who was so nice."

By October, a fund for the surviving children reached $100,000 in donations from across the nation.

November brought Keisha's and Chanell's birthdays -- and the start of the holiday season. Charles Dorsey was sustained by the love of his large, close-knit extended family -- and with the kindness of strangers.

At Christmastime, the mother of one of Keisha's classmates made pillowlike angels with each victim's name sewn on them. She sent them to Dorsey in a large box.

"I opened it up, cried for a while, then I got myself together and I called her and cried some more," he said.

He also was moved by a poem sent from Peru, and dolls and teddy bears from children nationwide. Some carried scrawled notes, in which children said the toys were their most cherished.

He donated most toys to day care centers and local hospitals, and has given most of his family's belongings to relatives.

But he has held on to Keisha's "Flintstones" and "Curious George" books, a small stuffed lion Chanell slept with and some other keepsakes. He still can't bear to display a large family photo.

After the holidays, the family began to prepare for a criminal trial against the Mazda's driver, Raymond Charles Haney, who could have been sentenced to 50 years if convicted on charges of vehicular manslaughter.

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