For neighbors, accident comes as shock


WHEATON -- Neighbors of a young Portuguese couple who died in a Good Friday car crash on Interstate 95 that spared their two children were saddened yesterday to learn of the sudden loss.

Residents of the 12200 block of Centerhill Street in this Montgomery County suburb were in the middle of their Saturday afternoon chores when they heard about the two-car accident near Perryville in Cecil County that took the lives of Manuel

Mendes, 34, his wife, Maria, 33, and Mrs. Mendes' mother, Maria Do Santos, 69.

The couple's young children, Luciana, 3, and Daniel, 3, survived the accident and were listed in good condition at University Hospital in Baltimore yesterday with abrasions.

"We just had dinner together Friday night," said Jorge Moreno, the Mendeses' next-door neighbor, shaking his head. "We ate and drank together."

Mr. Moreno, who said Mr. Mendes was a foreman for a concrete company and Mrs. Mendes worked as a domestic in Potomac, said the family had lived on Centerhill Street for about a year and a half and were originally from a northern province of Portugal. Many of the family's immediate neighbors also came from


Using a family phone book found in the Mendeses' car, a state trooper and a state police chaplain worked until midnight Friday to find relatives, who then went to University Hospital to be with the orphaned children.

Neighbors said Mrs. Mendes had four brothers and a sister living in Riverdale.

A corporal at the Kennedy Highway barracks of the state police said yesterday that the 1988 Pontiac that hit the family's Toyota 4-Runner truck will soon be inspected to determine whether mechanical problems caused the accident.

The occupants of the Pontiac -- Jonah Weinstein, 25, of Lakewood, N.J., and his wife, Yehudis, 21 -- were also killed in the crash.

The accident occurred at 3:21 p.m. on a rain-slicked stretch of I-95 when the driver of the Pontiac lost control of the vehicle, which jumped from the southbound lanes of the highway onto a median strip and hit the Mendeses' truck in the northbound lanes.

A gully lies in the middle of the median strip, and it appeared that the Pontiac momentarily became airborne as it left the elevated southbound lane and sailed into the northbound lane ++ just below it.

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