A few hours after a Pennsylvania family left for a weeklong beach vacation, their minivan overturned on Interstate 95 just outside Columbia, killing a 15-year-old girl and leaving three people critically injured yesterday, police said.
Philadelphia residents Michael Davis, 44, Alexis Murial Davis, 42, their three children, and Alexis Davis' mother, sister and nephew were heading south on I-95 at 8: 09 a.m. when their Mercury Villager suddenly drove off the highway, flipped and crashed into the guardrail about 50 feet from the Route 175 exit, police said.
Four of the eight passengers were thrown from the van -- two children were thrown 100 feet, police and rescue workers said.
"One person was trapped under the car," said Capt. Michael Faith of Howard County's Department of Fire and Rescue Services.
"Lots of people stopped to help because it was a pretty horrific scene," said state police Tfc. Arthur Betts, who was the first officer to arrive.
Joy Nichole Stith, 15, the sister of Alexis Davis, died at the scene, rescue workers said.
The Davises' three children were also hurt. Jason Michael, 15, suffered head injuries and was in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital; his sister, Michelle Alexis, 10, also suffered head injuries and was in serious condition at Hopkins, a hospital spokeswoman said. Their brother, Julius, 12, was in good condition at Hopkins, the spokeswoman said.
Alexis Davis' mother, Eleanor Stith, 66, and nephew, Alec Marquee Stith, 2, were in good condition at Hopkins, the spokeswoman said. Only Julius Davis and Alec Stith were wearing seat belts, police said.
About 30 Howard County and state police officials responded to the accident, which closed all four lanes for an hour, backing up traffic for six miles.
Hannah Taleu, the shock trauma coordinator at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where Michael and Alexis Davis were sent, said Michael Davis suffered severe head injury and neck injuries. She said he and his wife "both have a chance of survival."
The cause of the accident is not known, Betts said. Investigators are considering mechanical and human error, including the possibility that Michael Davis, who was driving, had fallen asleep.
"For some unknown apparent reason, they lost control of the vehicle," said John DiPaula, a state police corporal. "Why the car flipped over, I don't know."
DiPaula said it doesn't appear that anyone cut them off, or that something was on the road that would have caused the car to slip. No one witnessed the accident, he said.
All eight people lived in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Winfield.
Michael Davis, a construction worker, and his wife, a receptionist at a doctor's office, are lifelong residents of Philadelphia and high school sweethearts.
They left their home about 5 a.m. yesterday for their annual family trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., packing the van with blankets, towels and luggage.
"They normally go every summer," said Carlton Stith, 38, Alexis' sister.
"Every year they traveled somewhere as a family," said Corrine Thompson, who has lived next door to Eleanor Stith for 30 years.
Family and neighbors said the Davis and Stith families attended the same church, Holy Temple. "They never missed a day of church," Thompson said. "They were wonderful churchgoing people."
When members of Holy Temple learned of the accident, they moved their regular service to the Stith home, Carlton Stith said.
Thompson said: "It's just the worst thing that could've happened."
Pub Date: 8/10/98