The Rev. Evanstein Montague has spent years teaching others how to drive as a driver’s education instructor at a high school in his native North Carolina. Over the past few years, his tone has become more urgent.
More than four years have passed since the fatal Christmas Eve crash that claimed the life of his daughter, Idoreyin Montague. When he speaks of his loss to students and parents, he says, he tries to stress the importance of safe driving to prevent similar tragedies.
Then a 30-year-old, second-year medical resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Idoreyin Montague was on her way to church in 2014 when police said she crossed the center line on West Cold Spring Lane and hit an oncoming SUV around 7:30 p.m. Doctors at Sinai Hospital pronounced her dead just before midnight.
Since then, Evanstein Montague has not just looked to educate potential motorists about the ways of the road but sought to prove that the city of Baltimore could have done more to prevent his daughter’s fatal collision.
The history of Baltimore’s first highway and highest volume road explains why it was built with its harrowing S-bend turns, which contribute to a crash rate twice as high as comparable Maryland highways, and why it ends so abruptly at the Fayette Street traffic light.
He believes she was not at fault for the accident. Rather, in a lawsuit filed against the city in December 2017, Montague alleges his daughter’s death could have resulted from improperly and/or negligently maintained roadways.
But the city, in its motion for a summary judgment, argues it is immune from being sued for how it constructs roadways and said Montague failed to give notice of his intention to file a suit before the legal statute of limitations expired.
The court ruled against Montague and in favor of the city at a hearing Wednesday morning, finding that he did not file notice to the city within the statute of limitations. He said he has 30 days to file an appeal.
Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing, Montague said, he’s prepared to continue to fight the city over what he calls its failure to maintain the quality of the road, which he said was not adequate at the time of Idoreyin’s death.
City Council members want to cap drivers’ speed on Baltimore streets to 25 mph on main roads and 20 mph on side streets. Legislation proposed by Ryan Dorsey and Mary Pat Clarke would drop the top speed on main thoroughfares such as Harford Road, Martin Luther King Boulevard and York Road.
Montague said the markings in the road had deteriorated and that the pavement where his daughter was driving was worn out. He said there was no warning of curves in the road, no rumble strips on the side of the road and no appropriate signage.
He added his daughter was a safe driver and an intelligent doctor who simply couldn’t tell where she was on a dark and unfamiliar road.
“Had the lines been there, had it been paved like it is now, my daughter would not be dead today,” he said. “Roadway design is protected by law, but maintenance is not.”
City of Baltimore officials were not available for comment Tuesday.
Montague said his daughter loved Baltimore and had planned to give back to the community. At Johns Hopkins Hospital, she was a combined internal medicine and pediatrics resident who dreamed of providing primary care to the underserved.
Police and traffic enforcement officers are beginning to give warnings to drivers who block intersections in downtown Baltimore this week — and will begin issuing $125 fines for “blocking the box,” as it’s known, beginning Oct. 15, the Department of Transportation said.
He said it’s been painful for him to file a lawsuit against the city she loved, but that given its lack of transparency and responsiveness to her death, he feels he has no choice.
“I want to give voice to what my daughter cannot do for herself,” he said. “This is about the need for improving the quality of life for the motoring public.”
Montague said he intends to donate any proceeds received from the lawsuit to Johns Hopkins to conduct roadway studies to make the roads safer for future Baltimore drivers. He said the city should appreciate how much his daughter had to offer it — and how much of an impact she could have had if she had lived.