Teen driver is charged in fatal collision

His role in `speed contest' led to 3 deaths, police say

February 20, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A teen-ager was charged yesterday with triggering a car crash last month that killed three Calvert County high school students by engaging in what police called a dangerous "speed contest."

Though not directly involved in the Jan. 27 collision between a Ford Mustang and a U-Haul truck, police said the 17-year-old boy is to blame for the accident that occurred shortly after classes ended at Patuxent High School in Lusby.

Maryland State Police charged the youth as a juvenile with three counts of manslaughter and numerous motor vehicle citations, including reckless driving, participating in a "speed contest" and passing on the right.

The charges, said Lt. George McKeon, send a message that drivers racing on public roads "have some culpability" if an accident occurred.

Police declined to release the teen's name because he is charged as a juvenile. He was being held last night at the Prince Frederick barracks awaiting a hearing to determine whether he should be held or sent home to his parents.

Killed in the accident were the driver of the Mustang, Michael Keith Vito, 17; his girlfriend, Rachel Thomas, 15; and his stepsister, Jacqueline Suzanne Rose, 14. The driver of the U-Haul, Donald Lee Roberts, remained in critical condition yesterday at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly.

Police said the Mustang and the teen's Oldsmobile Cutlass left the high school parking lot and headed south on Rousby Hall Road.

"The two vehicles engaged in illegal passing on the two-lane road and were participating in a speed contest," police said in a statement.

McKeon said the investigation has not revealed how fast either car was going, but he said "speed was definitely a factor."

During the race, police said, Vito lost control of the Mustang and slammed into the oncoming U-Haul truck.

The accident was an emotional blow to the Chesapeake Bay community, where social life revolves around the school.

Students left a white wooden cross, notes, flowers and balloons at the crash site in front of the skid marks and deep gouges that marked the scene.

Pub Date: 2/20/99

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