Accident that killed woman a mystery

Husband of driver sees car pulled from Balto. Co. ravine on evening news

June 12, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The brief note worried Steven Richards. His wife, Joyce, had written it Monday, saying she had gone to visit her sister in Baltimore, 50 miles south of their home in Conewago Township, Pa.

"I was concerned because she wasn't here," Richards said yesterday. So he called Conewago police Monday night.

He didn't learn where his wife was until three nights later, when he turned on the evening news. There was his car, with the body of his wife inside, being lifted out of a remote ravine in Baltimore County.

He doesn't know, nor do police, what brought 47-year-old Joyce Richards to the rural stretch of Falls Road, near Shawan Road, where her car left the road, climbed a guardrail and plummeted 10 feet into a ravine obscured by trees and bushes.

An autopsy found that Richards died instantly. Her body was not found for two days.

The investigation of the accident has raised questions such as how a police officer sent to the scene minutes after a witness reported the accident failed to see the car in the ravine.

The accident was first reported by a man who saw it as he drove south on Falls Road about 1: 30 Tuesday afternoon. Police declined to identify him yesterday.

"Out of the corner of his eye, he saw this accident beginning to happen," said Baltimore County Police spokesman Bill Toohey.

The man told police that he didn't stop because he was late for work. Instead, he drove east on Shawan Road to the light rail station at Hunt Valley Mall, found a county police officer and told him he had just seen an accident in which a car had overturned.

The officer notified dispatchers, and Officer Jennifer Arnett of the Cockeysville precinct was sent to the scene.

Arnett, 24, who has been with the police force for a year, drove around the area and could not find any overturned vehicles, Toohey said.

The guardrail appeared to be undamaged, so Arnett did not get out of the car to look at it. The Richards vehicle was almost directly under the railing, 10 feet below the level of the road.

Arnett's actions are being reviewed by the department, Toohey said, as a routine matter. "There is nothing to indicate she did anything wrong," he said.

The Richardson vehicle, a white Geo Prizm, lay at the bottom of the ravine until Thursday afternoon, when a Bell Atlantic worker in a cherry picker saw it and called police.

Police do not know what might have caused Richards, who neighbors in Conewago Township said had been driving for about a year, to swerve off the road.

"She wasn't well. She was diabetic," said Ellie Bramble, who lives next door to the Richardses.

Richards said his wife, who had a son and three grandchildren, was a retired records clerk for the state of Maryland.

"Joyce is originally from Baltimore. She lived there for 44 years before I met her," he said yesterday. The two met three years ago when she came to Hanover to visit her brother, he said.

They married in December of 1997 and bought a house in Conewago Township, Richards said.

The couple often went to Baltimore. "We'd go down to see the family, things like that," he said.

An autopsy report has not been completed, but the chief medical examiner said yesterday that Richards died as a result of the accident.

"The injuries that she sustained caused her to die instantaneously," Dr. John Smialek said.

The results of drug and alcohol tests are expected in several days, he said.

Pub Date: 6/12/99

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