NANJEMOY -- James Carroll and his wife, Sheila, were on their way to Waldorf Thursday evening to pick up a prom tuxedo for their older son, Brian, when they came upon the flaming wreckage of three cars on Route 6.
One car looked familiar. When Mr. Carroll went to check, his worst fears came true. His younger son, 8-year-old James D. Carroll, was trapped in the twisted wreckage along with five other members of his family.
"The car was still on fire," Mr. Carroll recounted numbly yesterday. "My son looked bad. And there wasn't nothing I could do. Coming up on something like that is bad. But then, you find out you have family in there. I saw my son. And there was nothing I could do."
Young James and his cousin, Sharnelle Carroll, 7, were pulled from the wreckage by Charles County paramedics and died later at Physicians Memorial Hospital in La Plata. Sharnelle's 2-year-old sister, Glynielle Carroll, her father, Glenn Carroll, 35, and her mother, Tresa Mae Keys, 30, all died in the head-on crash with a 1978 Cadillac that had sped across the center line into their lane. Ernest Knight, 27, the driver of the Cadillac, also died in the four-car collision on the two-lane road. Three others were injured.
According to Officer Christopher Becker of the Charles County Sher
iff's Department, Mr. Knight had been speeding west on Route 6, in rolling farm country about six miles west of La Plata, when his car crossed into the eastbound lane at
about 80 miles an hour. The posted speed limit on the road is 50 mph.
The car sideswiped a Pontiac T-1000, and forced it down a roadside embankment. It then slammed head-on into Mr. Carroll's Nissan Sentra, which was just cresting a rise. The Sentra flipped over and crashed into an oncoming Honda Accord, Officer Becker said. He said the Honda was following Mr. Carroll's car so closely that it could not avoid the collision.
Rebecca Slaughter, 32, of La Plata, driver of the Pontiac, and her daughter, Crystal, 12, were treated and released at Southern Maryland Hospital Center.
Susan Jackson, 22, of La Plata, driver of the Honda, remained there last night. Hospital officials did not list her condition.
Young James' family -- aunts, uncles and cousins -- all live in tiny, weathered houses and trailers in wooded clearings that stretch for a mile or so along Poseytown Road.
Yesterday, they gathered at homes along the road to comfort each other. They sat in groups at picnic tables under trees, many of them staring blankly. A few talked quietly.
James was a rambunctious youngster who spent most of his time outside, playing with his dog, tossing a basketball, or running through the woods to visit Sharnelle, his parents said.
It wasn't enough that they rode the bus to Mount Hope-Nanjemoy Elementary School together, Mrs. Carroll said.
"He had to go right over there when he got home," she said.
Teachers at Mount Hope described Sharnelle as kind and loving and always willing to share and help others, said Linda Dent Brown, Charles County schools spokeswoman. They called James, who had been "student of the month" in February, a very friendly child with an irrepressible smile and a thirst for knowledge.
Glenn Carroll and Ms. Keys had been together for about 10 years, recalled Bobby Lee, who is married to one of Mr. Carroll's five sisters.
They moved into the long, tan trailer just two doors away from him about two or three years ago, Mr. Carroll said.
Mr. Carroll had been laid off from a construction job, he said. Ms. Keys worked at the Naval Ordnance Station in Indian Head, about 15 miles away. Family members spoke carefully yesterday, afraid of upsetting Mr. Carroll's mother, Mattie, who has been seriously ill.
Back at James' home, his mother flipped through family pictures, recalling all his dogs that had been killed when they wandered into the road. "I told him we were going to get a house dog," she said. "We never got a chance to."