A crash, 2 men and an `eerie' link

August 18, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Doug Dellinger and Jeff Carr lived two miles from each other, played varsity sports for the same Howard County high school and sang side by side in its elite a cappella group. After graduation, they went their own ways.

At 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Carr's Chevrolet Tahoe crossed the double yellow line on a curvy stretch of Route 99 in Ellicott City and hit Dellinger's Ford Explorer head-on, according to police.

Dellinger, 20, died. Carr, 22, survived.

"I was in disbelief about Doug, and when I found out it was Jeff, it was such an eerie coincidence," said Jonathan Moynihan, 20, who sang in the Madrigals at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City with Dellinger and Carr and traveled to Orlando, Fla., with them twice for competitions. "I knew both of them really well. They sat next to each other in class for a year."

Dellinger, who graduated from Mount Hebron in 2005, the year after Carr, wanted to be a physical therapist. He was to start his junior year this fall at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he played on the Ultimate Frisbee team.

At Mount Hebron, Dellinger played varsity basketball, sang in the Madrigals and performed in school plays, including The King and I, To Kill a Mockingbird and Fiddler on the Roof.

He was voted the "most spirited" his senior year.

"Any sports team that he was a fan of, he was devoted [to], let's just say," said Gretchen Dellinger, 23, his older sister. "He would go to girls' volleyball games and cheer them on. He made this T-shirt about supporting the volleyball team that he'd wear."

Vince Ritter, 20, also graduated from Mount Hebron in 2005 and was the last person to see Dellinger alive.

On the night of his death, Dellinger and Ritter met with friends from high school at Serafino's, a restaurant and bar on Plum Tree Drive in Ellicott City. Dellinger, who had to baby-sit the next day, was the designated driver, Ritter said.

"We were talking in the car about how funny it was to see kids who were a couple years ahead of us -- people we haven't seen in a long time," Ritter said. "We were laughing about this kid who threw a rock at the backboard of the basketball hoop in the gym and shattered it."

Dellinger offered to drive home other friends who had been drinking, but they all had rides, Ritter said. Dellinger dropped off Ritter at home in Turf Valley and then drove west on Route 99 toward home.

Howard County police Cpl. Jennifer Reidy-Hall said investigators have found no evidence that either driver of the crash had been drinking. Carr, a resident of Thornbrook Road in Ellicott City, has not been charged in the crash.

Mount Hebron students and recent graduates are familiar with the dangers of Route 99 between Raleigh Tavern Lane and Bracken Drive.

In February 2006, Mount Hebron senior Michele Iampieri, 18, a friend of Carr's, died in a single-car, drunken-driving accident near this week's collision. Iampieri's classmate was behind the wheel.

Three months later, senior Jamila Haley Palmer, then 18, was hit by a fellow senior's sport utility vehicle after jumping out of a moving car and running across Route 99.

And in November, another 2006 graduate, Eric Jason O'Brien Jr., then 18, lost control of his pickup truck on a curve on Route 99. The truck slammed into a utility pole at Raleigh Tavern Lane and erupted in flames. Three men pulled O'Brien, who was unconscious, out of the truck and saved his life.

Mark Buchta tried to do the same for Dellinger. Buchta said he was watching television and reading a newspaper in his living room when he heard a "gigantic boom."

"We are kind of used to that sound by now," said Buchta, who lives on Kings Arm Tavern Court, which intersects Route 99 at Raleigh Tavern Lane. "I know what that sound is. We knew immediately it was an accident of some sort, but normally we hear tires skidding. This was just, `Boom!' It was very sudden."

Carr screamed, "Help me!" and shouted "Oh my God," over and over again, but he was lucid and walking, Buchta said.

After calming Carr, Buchta realized that someone was still in the Explorer. All of the windows had shattered, and Buchta could not pry open the jammed doors. There was no way that Buchta and a motorist, who had stopped to help, could pull Dellinger, who was 6 feet, 6 inches tall and unconscious, out of the SUV.

"All we could do was wait," Buchta said. "A couple of times, I just told him to hang on. `Help's coming.'"

Dellinger was pronounced dead at Howard County General Hospital. Carr, whose family and friends declined to comment for this article, was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was treated and released Wednesday.

Carr was named first-team All-County in baseball his senior year, hitting .377. According to the 2004 Mount Hebron yearbook, Carr had the "best car," a BMW, in the senior class.

In the Madrigals, the two athletes dressed in Renaissance costumes and sang centuries-old songs in English and French. Both were basses and stood in the back row of the 18-member group.

"Jeff was older than us, so it was cool that he would still be friends with us, given the whole high school atmosphere," said Moynihan, a junior at Salisbury University.

Moynihan said that Carr and Dellinger ran in different circles outside the Madrigals.

"I wouldn't say that they were tight, but they were definitely friends," he said.

Dellinger's family is just beginning to learn how the two men's lives overlapped.

"We knew their paths must have crossed in high school," Gretchen Dellinger said. "We haven't taken the time to find out when they crossed, but we wouldn't be surprised if there were many times. But Jeff wasn't someone we heard about at home."

A viewing and funeral service for Dellinger will be today at Grace Community Church, 8200 Old Columbia Road, Fulton. The viewing is from 10 a.m. to noon. The funeral service begins at 12:30 p.m.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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