I-83 crash kills father, baby

Second car strikes theirs while man is trying to get his son out of car seat after their vehicle hit guardrail

July 23, 2008|By Laura Barnhardt, Justin Fenton and Gus G. Sentementes | Laura Barnhardt, Justin Fenton and Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporters

Clint Jones, back home in southern Anne Arundel County but still wearing a hospital gown, and bandages on his head, grimaced with pain as he recalled the early-morning accident on Interstate 83.

He and a cousin had been making idle chatter about how much farther the group had to drive to get to Harrisburg. A 2-month-old boy was in a car seat. The baby's mother had the wheel.

"The next thing I know, we hit the rumble strip," Jones said.

The driver "went one way, went the other way, then tried to correct it, and the car did a 180 into the guardrail," he said. "That's when I went out the window."

The car came to a stop in the highway. And as the boy's father tried to unstrap his child from the car, the vehicle was rear-ended.

Both of them died.

Ronnel S. Offer, 25, of Galesville was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Maryland State Police. His son, Tyler M. Offer, of Harrisburg, Pa., died at Sinai Hospital shortly after the 3 a.m. accident.

Three others who had been in the car, including Jones and the child's mother, Erika L. Braun, 19, of Harrisburg, were injured.

The driver and passenger in the car that hit them were also injured.

The accident closed the northbound lanes of I-83 between Shawan and Belfast roads in northern Baltimore County for more than four hours, causing delays during the morning commute.

Investigators are trying to piece together what caused the crash. Both vehicles were apparently headed to homes in Pennsylvania.

Police were waiting to talk to Braun about whether she might have fallen asleep or anything that could have caused her to lose control of her 2001 Mazda 626, said Sgt. Arthur Betts, a state police spokesman.

Investigators were looking at other factors. The car was disabled in the right lane of the highway near the crest of a hill, on the downward side, when it was hit.

After the car hit the guardrail, its headlights might not have been working, police said. That area of the highway has no overhead lights.

Alcohol does not appear to have been a factor in the accident, police said. No charges had been filed yesterday.

After the Mazda hit the guardrail, Jones, 24, of Galesville was thrown through the car's rear window, police said.

Braun, along with Ronnel Offer and another passenger, Demarco T. Offer, 21, also of Galesville, got out of the car.

But as Ronnel Offer leaned in, unfastened the baby from his car seat and began to take him out, a 2007 Toyota Prius hit them, police said.

Transportation experts say there is no definitive advice for drivers to follow in the critical minutes after a crash.

"I don't think there's a textbook answer," said Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic and former Baltimore police officer. "Each situation is different. The safest thing to do depends on the type of road, what lane you're in, the time of day, the weather."

In general, police recommend that drivers pull to the shoulder of the road when possible. If occupants get out of the vehicle, they should avoid standing directly in front or behind it.

Jones and Demarco Offer were flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where they were treated and released, said Cynthia M. Rivers, a hospital spokeswoman.

Braun was taken by ambulance to Sinai Hospital but refused treatment and was released, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Toyota driver, Joe Y. Nimely, 42, and his wife, Celia S. Nimely, 34, of York, Pa., were taken by ambulance to Shock Trauma, where she was in serious condition last night. Joe Nimely was treated and released, Rivers said.

Police did not say whether Demarco and Ronnel Offer are related.

Yesterday afternoon, survivors who had been in the Mazda apparently returned to Galesville, a community of modest homes in southern Anne Arundel County along the West River.

Several people were milling around the neighborhood or were sitting on front steps and at picnic tables.

Later, as Jones began to describe the crash, a man entered the home and asked a reporter to leave.

Family members said everyone was too grief-stricken to comment.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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