Plea for witnesses to I-95 hit-and-run accident of 1997

Maryland State Police have sought help from a hypnotist on the case, with no luck.

June 24, 1999|By Mary Jo Melone

A WITNESS said the trucker who killed my brother was white, between 40 and 50 years of age, with a black beard.

Even now, when thoughts of my brother keep me awake, I picture this trucker in my mind. Always he's in some crummy bar with a beer and a shot in front of him. Sometimes he's buzzed and bragging to his buddies that he accidentally killed somebody on Interstate 95 in Maryland and got away with it. Sometimes he's alone and drinking to numb his conscience. That assumes he has one.

On June 26, 1997, my brother, Carl J. Melone Jr., was killed by a tractor-trailer truck on southbound I-95 in Harford County, about 60 miles north of Baltimore, while he changed a flat tire on the shoulder. The accident occurred on a sunny Thursday, around 6: 30 a.m., just beyond the Millard E. Tydings Bridge that crosses the Susquehanna River and just before the Havre de Grace exit.

A parental mission

Carl was a 48-year-old business executive from Malvern, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. He died as he was going about one of parenthood's poignant missions: He and his wife were taking their daughter to freshman orientation at the University of Maryland, College Park.

His wife and daughter were standing near the guardrail while Carl worked on the rear tire closest to the highway, the left one. Suddenly, the 18-wheel truck roared up, crossed into the shoulder, sideswiped their green Nissan Maxima and then roared back into traffic. His wife and daughter were not hurt, but the truck pullled Carl's body 50 feet down the road.

State police found two witnesses. Neither of them wrote down the tractor-trailer's license plate number. But they said the trailer was a flatbed. Paint chips found at the scene indicate that tractor or trailer was red. The trailer was covered with a dark tarp and was perhaps rimmed by stanchions and gray boards.

One witness said that when he pulled his car ahead of the truck in an attempt to slow him down, the trucker's face in his rear-view mirror was as impassive as stone.

With so little information to go on, Maryland State Police have even sought help from a hypnotist on the case, with no luck. Federal transportation department investigators traveled to Georgia to inspect a suspected truck; but it wasn't the one. Fliers were posted at truck stops and tollbooths seeking information related to the accident.

Scores of victims

The nation's interstate highway system can make the narrow streets of a city like Baltimore look like pleasant country lanes. In 1997, Carl was just one of 833 pedestrians killed as a result of hit-and-run accidents nationwide. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Carl was among 14 killed by the drivers of big rigs. But that number may be misleading because police could not determine the types of vehicles that killed one-third of those victims.

When you are hit by a sudden, brutal death like this, the news hurtles you like a strong wind down half-forgotten paths and alleys. I was Carl's kid sister. When he was killed, we hadn't seen each other or spoken in seven years. I should have accepted the finality of his absence by now, but I haven't. I'd been expecting to see him again someday. I expected to be able to make things right.

We had gone the way members of many families go, which is to say, apart, and bitterly so. Why hardly matters. My sorrow at my part in it lingers, while the details of our quarrels, from childhood, have been made so puny by his death.

My brother left behind two children, his daughter and a son -- both on the cusp of adulthood. His death has denied them the belief that every young person needs to hold on to, at least for a little while -- that if you work hard and do your best, life will be fair.

Seeking answers

But that didn't happen. As for me, this column about my brother's killing is my only chance to repair what I could not fix with him while he was alive. It is meant to seek answers to the two hardest questions for me: Why did a man like Carl have to die? And how can the man who killed him simply go on, unpunished and prosper?

Anyone with information about the case should call the state police at the JFK barrack in Perryville at (410) 378-3186 and tell what they know to 1st Sgt. John Mooney or Detective Sergeant Alan Michael.

Mary Jo Melone is a metro columnist for the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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