Two Maryland Transportation Authority officers who were among the first to respond to a horrific crash along Interstate 95 on Tuesday night described yesterday a harrowing scene of pulling victims from flaming wreckage.
Authorities identified yesterday the three people who died as a result of the accident: Kyle A. Smith and Claire Gertrude Smith, of Manassas, Va., and Jamison M. Miller of Belcamp.
Accident reconstruction specialists also continued working yesterday to determine what caused the crash that involved two tractor-trailers and several other vehicles and tied up traffic for hours in the southbound lanes of I-95 near the Fort McHenry Tunnel toll plaza.
"Reconstructionists are looking to see whether excessive speed played a factor in the crash," said Cpl. Greg Prioleau of the transportation authority police. "They're looking at the condition of the truck drivers, the condition of the vehicles in terms of safety issues, and any physical evidence at the scene, including markings and photographs that were taken. They're also conducting witness interviews."
The accident was the worst in the Baltimore area since January, when a gasoline tanker plunged off an Interstate 895 southbound overpass onto the northbound lanes of I-95 in Elkridge, killing the tanker driver and three others.
After Tuesday's crash, Officers Duane Urban and James Kruszynski weren't dwelling on possible causes. Saving lives and helping with a terrible situation were about their only thoughts.
"I was the first to respond, the first to show up on the scene," Urban, 24, said yesterday. "I was parked northbound. I went into my trunk to get my fire extinguisher because I had seen a small fire and some smoke.
"I was able to cross from northbound to southbound ... and I observed a male subject inside the vehicle that was stuck under the trailer, a Toyota Camry. I could see him from the waist up. He was hanging out of the vehicle, trying to crawl his way out and asking for help," Urban said.
Within seconds, Urban said, a woman who had been traveling in the Camry ran to him, screaming. Eventually, Urban led the woman away from a blaze, leaving her with a another motorist who had stopped to help.
The unidentified man and his niece from New Jersey whom Urban assisted survived. But Kruszynski encountered a more difficult scene.
"As I exited my vehicle, I could see a white passenger vehicle that was turned sideways in the roadway," said Kruszynksi, 27. "Practically the whole side of [a 1994 Plymouth] was missing. The driver was partially in the vehicle and partially laying on the street.
"I tried to assess his condition by checking for a pulse or breathing, but there was none. At that time I noticed there were a bunch of civilians on the other side of the vehicle, and they were trying to help the other passenger," he said.
Claire Smith was dragged away from the crash and taken by helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she died.
Marty Smith, 39, said yesterday that his 65-year-old father and 62-year-old stepmother had married in the late 1980s and were returning home to Virginia from visiting relatives in Connecticut.
Marty Smith recalled his father's happiness over meeting his future wife. "He talked to me a lot about it," Marty Smith said. "He was just saying how much he wanted to keep seeing her. She also said that he was just an extreme gentleman and that he was really, really nice to her."
Julie Smith, a neighbor who isn't related to the deceased couple, said the pair enjoyed gardening. Smith, 45, learned of their deaths when authorities visited her home about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. She later identified their bodies.
Efforts yesterday to reach relatives of Miller, 24, whom authorities have tentatively identified pending final DNA and dental examinations, were unsuccessful.