Gertrude Mitchell and Thelma Turner were the best of friends. They lived in the same retirement home in Northeast Baltimore. And for decades, they both attended services across town at the Providence Baptist Church. Sometimes they drove together.
About 5:45 Sunday afternoon, after participating in a fundraising function at the church in West Baltimore, the two women and Turner's 12-year-old foster son climbed into Turner's Chevrolet Lumina and headed home. Moments after they pulled onto Brunt Street, police said, a speeding Oldsmobile driven by a 20-year-old Baltimore man slammed into their car at Mosher Street.
Mitchell was rushed to Maryland Shock Trauma Center and died shortly after she arrived, police said. She was 84.
Turner was in serious condition at the hospital yesterday, according to a spokeswoman. The boy suffered minor injuries, police said.
The Oldsmobile spun out of control after the crash, hit a lamppost and burst into flames, city police said. Officer Michael Henry, an off-duty Baltimore City schools police officer and a parishioner at the church, heard the accident and ran toward it.
"I heard a racing car engine," Henry said. "I saw Miss Turner's car going in the opposite direction."
He ran to help the Oldsmobile driver. "It was just, `Get him out of the car.' I wanted to get him away from the car before it blew up," Henry said.
The driver was taken to Shock Trauma with minor injuries, police said.
Meanwhile, neighbors were helping the other two men in the car get away. Henry said two people in the neighborhood carried one man off.
They didn't realize Henry was a police officer. "They said, `Let's get away before the police come,'" he said.
Henry identified himself as an officer and the crowd became angry. "I had to pull my weapon," he said. "I told them `Bring it on.' I knew my backup was coming," he said.
"I come to find out ... " he said, choking up " ... one of my church members died."
Authorities declined to identify the Oldsmobile driver, but said he lives in the city and does not have a driver's license. The license plates on the Oldsmobile are registered to a different vehicle, police said. Authorities had not been able to locate the owner of the Oldsmobile yesterday and they could not find the two passengers, who fled.
Mitchell's family gathered yesterday at her apartment. They remembered the large meals she cooked at family gatherings - most recently last month.
"We had turkey. We had beef, fried chicken, cabbage, string beans, cornbread, biscuits, salad," said Angela Lewis, her stepdaughter. "She did corn pudding and the apple cobbler. She was famous."
Lewis said Mitchell loved cooking for the church and said that every member of the family could expect a pie on his or her birthday.
The food tasted different, better, than anybody else's. "It was full of love," Lewis said. "Just like she was."
She had been attending the church since 1941."She was the queen who kept the family together," said Dejelle Lewis, Mitchell's granddaughter.