Crash's aftermath: `carnage in here'

Bar patrons recount panic, confusion in Monday's crash

`People were screaming'

August 16, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef and Dennis O'Brien and Laura Lippman | Nancy A. Youssef and Dennis O'Brien and Laura Lippman,SUN STAFF

Firehouse Tavern was Carney's longtime watering hole, the kind of neighborhood joint that lived up to the cliche about a place where everyone knows your name. At 10:30 Monday night, with the weekly darts tournament in full swing and the two pool tables hopping, the 40 or so people who had gathered there couldn't hear the screaming whine of a Subaru Outback headed their way -- not until it burst through the wall at an estimated speed of 100 mph.

"I was waiting in line for a beer and the next thing I know I was on top of a car. I didn't know it was a car until everything settled down. There was a pause and then people were screaming," said Chery Gracer, 47, of the 3600 block of E. Northern Parkway, who suffered a fractured arm and a bruised temple. "I remember being hit by a 2-by-4. I feel very lucky."

When the 3,480-pound vehicle came to rest inside the bar, scattering a table full of people waiting for their turn at darts, the car was in three pieces, the front passenger door in the parking lot, the top of the Subaru sheared off and what remained of the body in the center of the room. Only the bar and a chandelier remained intact.

Until the debris and dust settled, those inside the bar in the 2800 block of E. Joppa Road thought a bomb must have gone off, as did neighbors who felt their houses shake. One resident ran outside with a flashlight, certain someone was trying to break into his house.

Baltimore County police say the accident was caused by three teen-agers fleeing police in a stolen Subaru. It was the second time in less than a week that an underage driver had been involved in a serious accident while at the wheel of a stolen vehicle. On Friday, a 14-year-old from Harford County was arrested after, police say, he drove the wrong way through the Fort McHenry Tunnel, killing two women.

At the Firehouse Tavern, 16 bar patrons and employees were taken to area hospitals after Monday's crash. Two of the injured -- Sarah Ann Geatz, 22, of the 9200 block of Orbitan Road in Carney was in fair condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, and Roswell Edward Jones, 45, of the first block of Greenwood Road in Pikesville was in fair condition at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Both remained hospitalized last night.

Of the three Baltimore teen-agers in the Subaru, the two 15-year-olds also are at Shock Trauma and the third, who is 17, was treated at Franklin Square Hospital Center and released to his parents' custody. He has been charged with grand theft auto, as has the 15-year-old passenger.

The 15-year-old driver is expected to face numerous charges, police said. Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Howard Merker said he will review the incident and the teen-agers' backgrounds to determine whether his office will request a Circuit Court judge transfer the case from Juvenile Court to the county Circuit Court.

Cleaning up

Yesterday morning, the Firehouse's owners tackled the formidable job of trying to clean up the bar, whose walls were decorated with patches from various fire companies. It took police until 11:15 a.m. yesterday to remove the pieces of the Outback. The scene was so chaotic that even veteran police officers gawked at the sight.

"It is carnage in here," said Cindy Cohen, who has owned the bar with her husband, Harry, since 1986. Blood was visible on the parking lot, on the cars left in the lot and on the tavern's floor. Chairs remained on top of the bar, where they had been thrown by the impact.

Call for prayer

During the night, Harry Cohen, a volunteer firefighter who said he was too distraught to speak of the incident, changed the signs outside to read: "Pray for the injured."

Those who escaped serious injury were thankful yesterday for the small interventions of fate that kept them out of the vehicle's destructive path.

Ronald Sullivan and his girlfriend, Diane Lewis had stopped at the Firehouse for dinner. It was Sullivan's first visit. Lewis had been there twice before.

"I keep thinking what if -- what if I hadn't stopped to leave a tip, what if I wasn't talking to that waitress," said Sullivan, a 59-year-old convenience store clerk who lives in Carney.

Lewis' Ford Astro van was parked alongside the tavern, about six inches from the path the Subaru carved through the aluminum-siding wall. If the couple had left a minute earlier, they might have been struck in the parking lot.

"Everybody was pretty confused," said Gary Jagodzinski, a Firehouse patron for 20 years who suffered minor injuries. "There was a panic. I helped [Gracer] out and then went back inside."

The Subaru had been reported stolen Sunday in Millersville. Baltimore County police say Monday night's high-speed chase and crash began with a 10:30 p.m. call to Skateland, in the 8800 block of Orchard Tree Lane. Police said they received a call for shots fired. When officers arrived, they found several shell casings and saw a Subaru speeding away, headed east on Joppa Road.

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