Thirteen members of a Maryland family set out from Prince George's County on Friday night for a summer vacation in South Carolina.
But seven hours later, after their three-car convoy pulled out of a rest stop along Interstate 85 in Salisbury, N.C., a tractor-trailer slammed into one of the cars, starting a chain reaction that left four members of the family dead and nine others injured.
Killed in the Saturday morning accident were 4-year-old Jonathan Richardson of Columbia; his aunts, Janet Louise Hamm, 34, of Suitland and Jacqueline Elizabeth Hamm, 32, of Bladensburg; and Jacqueline's 10-year-old son, Patrick Williams.
The accident stunned members of the family, a close-knit group that lived in Howard County, Prince George's County and Washington.
"It hurts," said Nutima Hamm, 16, whose parents and sister were among those injured.
"It took us by surprise like it's not even happening," said Ms. Hamm, a Landover resident who spoke for family members yesterday at Janet Hamm's apartment in Prince George's County.
A Virginia truck driver, Glenn R. Pointer, 40, of Gloucester, Va., was charged with four counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle, said Sgt. Michael R. Yelton of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Mr. Pointer, who also was treated at a local hospital, was released from the Rowan County Justice Center yesterday, after posting $5,000 bond.
Meanwhile, grieving relatives of those killed began gathering late Saturday at a Holiday Inn in Salisbury to comfort loved ones and deal with their own losses.
Among them were Jonathan's parents, Karen R. Hamm and Arthur Richardson Jr. of Long Reach Village in Columbia.
Jonathan "was a happy-go-lucky person," said Ms. Hamm, 30, in a telephone interview yesterday from the Holiday Inn. "He was daddy's sidekick. A little comedian."
The little boy would have started kindergarten at Phelps Luck Elementary School next month, she said.
Jonathan's brother, 7-year-old Arthur Richardson III, was a passenger in a different car. He was treated for injuries at a local hospital and released Saturday.
The women who were killed -- Janet and Jacqueline Hamm -- were two of Elvina Hamm's eight children -- four of whom were on the trip to Lyman, S.C., where the matriarch was moving from Suitland.
Janet Hamm, a free-lance photographer, had a 17-year-old daughter, Tamika Chambers.
Janet "was the one who always kept us out of trouble," said Nutima Hamm. "She was always saying, 'Drink water, stay healthy, take your vitamins.' "
Jacqueline Hamm, a nurse for an Alexandria, Va., gastroenterologist, was a single mother whose son Patrick wanted to be a doctor, relatives said of the two who died together.
On Friday night, 13 family members -- including six children -- met and left from Jacqueline Hamm's home in Bladensburg about 11:30 p.m.
The family headed out for a summer vacation at Elvina Hamm's home in Lyman driving three cars -- a 1990 Honda Accord, a 1994 Nissan and a 1972 Ford flatbed truck, which was hauling a silver Cadillac.
Just after 6 a.m., about an hour and half north of their destination, the accident occurred.
Police said Mr. Pointer, the truck driver, was setting down a cup of coffee in the cab of the tractor-trailer and apparently did not realize how close the truck was to the convoy in front of it.
The truck, which witnesses told police was exceeding the 65-mph speed limit, apparently was too close to the Nissan to stop before plowing it in the rear and sending it to the right shoulder, Sergeant Yelton said.
The tractor-trailer then hit the Honda, forcing it under the rear of the flatbed truck, tearing the top off the car, he said.
Four of the five passengers in the Honda were killed when the car struck the flatbed, police said. The lone survivor, 10-year-old Steven Foster of Washington, is listed in fair condition at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C., authorities said.
The flatbed truck crossed the median, flipped over and landed in the northbound lanes of I-85, flattening the Cadillac it was carrying, police said.
Nine family members were taken to local hospitals. Two of them -- including the Foster youth -- remained in hospitals last night.
Anthony Javon Wilson, 33, of Landover -- Nutima Hamm's father -- remained in serious condition last night at North Carolina Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Among the injured were his wife, Mary Wilson, 33; son, Anthony Javon Wilson Jr., 10; and daughter Tanisha, 5.
Other family members injured were: Theresa Hamm, 37, of Washington; and Elvina Hamm, 57, and Amos Lee Ofair, 62, of Lyman.
Donations to the family may be made to Crestar Bank in care of Elvina Hamm, 1800 Columbia Road N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.