Three people are dead and another is in critical condition after a car fleeing from police crashed into another vehicle at the intersection of York Road and Northern Parkway in North Baltimore. (Kim Hairston and Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)

A sedan being followed by police slammed into an SUV early Tuesday, killing three people in North Baltimore. The fiery scene sparked a frantic rescue effort and a lengthy investigation that shut down a busy intersection for hours.

About midnight, bartenders and Chinese carryout employees heard the collision at York Road and Northern Parkway and ran out with fire extinguishers to try to save the occupants. One bar employee helped a man out of a burning car and a neighbor walked him to safety.

"It was just ablaze, and there were people inside," said Dallas Reeves, 33, who walked out of his house to a frenzied scene of officers and witnesses trying to rescue a trapped driver from the SUV, a white Jeep.

"As soon as I went down onto the sidewalk, it was desperate. They were kicking the car, they were doing whatever they could to open the Jeep."

Rescuers were able to open the door and help a man out. He survived but was critically injured, police said.

A woman in the Jeep, identified Wednesday as 46-year-old Angel Chiwengo, was pronounced dead at an area hospital. Two men in the Honda sedan that police were trailing died at the scene, a Fire Department spokesman said. Police identified them as Devell Johns, 26, and Terrell Young, 28.

The incident began about four miles south of the crash. Police spokesman Lt. Eric Kowalczyk said plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle "observed suspicious activity that was criminal in nature" near Harford Road and East 25th Street and tried to stop two men in the Honda. The car fled and the officers "followed," Kowalczyk said.

At York Road and Northern Parkway, the car slammed into the Jeep.

Police did not release the identities of the officers who had initiated the traffic stop. The officers were assigned to the Northeastern police district, but Kowalczyk did not know how many officers were in the unmarked car, and police withheld their identities.

Police did not know whether officers followed the suspect car at a safe speed or were in pursuit with lights and sirens, and they spent much of Tuesday investigating the circumstances of the crash.

The Baltimore Police Department's pursuit policy prohibits officers from chasing suspects in vehicles except under "exigent circumstances," including in instances in which officers believe that failing to pursue could lead to injury or death or there isn't time for another approach. Kowalczyk said he did not know whether the officers had alerted dispatchers that they were following a car.

Multiple witnesses said they did not hear sirens before the crash.

The intersection was closed in all directions until about 11 a.m. Tuesday as police investigated. A police helicopter landed and took off multiple times from the Northern Parkway carrying crash investigators. Even as the roadway opened in the afternoon, the chopper continued to tour the scene, repeatedly going up and down York Road.

People who had seen the fiery wreck said they would not soon forget it.

"Everybody was out there," said David Rugalo, who owns Jerry's Belvedere Tavern nearby. "There were people out there trying to put the fire out." A bartender from another establishment grabbed fire extinguishers and ran across Northern Parkway and began spraying the Jeep before he was able to open the door with a bat that he found, according to witnesses. Rugalo soon joined him with more extinguishers.

Witnesses said it was clear the occupants of the Honda could not be saved.

"At first we wondered why cops were standing around the Honda and weren't doing anything," said Sarah Winter, 24, a bartender at Zen West Cantina on York Road. "Then we walked around the car and saw. … You couldn't really tell it was a car, just crumpled metal."

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