Six people were injured yesterday afternoon when two cars collided head-on after a Virginia driver made a U-turn on the eastbound lane of Route 175 in Columbia.
Police were continuing to investigate the accident last night and would not release the victims' names until their relatives could be notified.
The accident occurred about 3:05 p.m. near the exit ramp connecting Route 175 with the northbound lanes of U.S. 29. Both lanes of Route 175 were closed for about an hour, as traffic was diverted onto the southbound Route 29 ramp. One of the lanes was reopened by 4:10 p.m.
Emergency workers assisted the injured from a light blue Ford Taurus with Virginia license tags and a light blue Nissan Stanza.
A state police helicopter carried the driver of the Stanza and the two back seat passengers of the Taurus to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. The conditions of the injured were not available last night.
Battalion Chief Donald Howell of the county Department of Fire and Rescue Services said that a front-seat passenger of the Stanza was taken to Howard County General Hospital for minor injuries.
The driver of the Taurus and his front-seat passenger also were taken by ambulance to the Columbia hospital. Chief Howell said air bags were largely responsible for saving the front-seat occupants of the Taurus.
According to witnesses, the Taurus was traveling eastbound on Route 175 when the driver made a U-turn and began driving toward on-coming traffic. A median divides the two eastbound lanes.
Greg Thomas, 18, of Ellicott City, said he was ahead of the traffic emerging from the stop light at Columbia Road, with the closest cars about 50 yards behind him. Up ahead, he said he saw the Taurus turn around.
"I thought, 'What is this guy doing?' " Mr. Thomas said. "I was beeping and he just acted like nothing was happing, like he didn't know it was a one-way road."
Mr. Thomas said that after avoiding the Taurus, he looked in his rear-view mirror and saw the crash.
"It all happened so fast," he said. "I saw a cloud of glass, and when it disappeared, the [Stanza] was spun around."
The Taurus, with its hood and part of its roof caved in, came to rest on the grassy median.
Martin Armstrong, of Catonsville, was driving with his two daughters in the right lane of Route 175 when he saw the Taurus coming his way. Mr. Armstrong swerved his station wagon down the north-bound Route 29 ramp to avoid the accident.
"I said, 'Oh, my God, watch out." he said. "I don't know if they had a clue."
Mr. Thomas and Mr. Armstrong assisted the victims until emergency officials arrived minutes later.
Chief Howell said the driver of the Taurus may have been confused.
"That's certainly a possibility," he said. "If they're from out-of-state, they may not have been familiar with road patterns."