The morning rush hour was beginning on Woodlawn Drive yesterday as sisters Karen Fields and Kim Linair Dorsey waited for a bus with their six children, who laughed and playfully jostled each other.
"They were all singing the same song, a little children's song and everybody had a part," said Vicki Stuart, a 35-year-old nursing assistant who was waiting for the same bus when a 1988 red Mazda MX6 careened toward them.
"The car was going very fast. It hit me first," she said. "Then he proceeded to hit everybody else. They just went flying in the air.
"You could hear screams and then it was quiet. A boy fell down on my leg. I felt his hand to see if he had a pulse, and I didn't feel nothing."
When the car stopped on the grassy roadside, five people lay dead: Mrs. Dorsey, 25; her two children, Keisha, 7, and Channel, 3; and two of Ms. Fields' children, Darian Hough, 8, and Jasmine Little, 4. Mrs. Dorsey's stepson, Charles Edgar Dorsey V, 8, was in critical condition last night at Johns Hopkins Children's Center with a broken leg and a punctured lung.
Ms. Stuart was treated at Sinai Hospital for a leg injury and released.
Ms. Fields was not injured.
In the aftermath, after the wailing of sirens died down, an eerie stillness hung over the lawn on the side of the Social Security Administration complex.
Veteran police officers and rescue workers, along with onlookers, gazed in horror at the five white sheets, one for each victim, that dotted the green, near tire tracks made by the Mazda's path. A child's white tennis shoe lay alone in the street.
Witnesses told police that the Mazda had been weaving through traffic and might have been speeding. Police said they believe the driver, Raymond Charles Haney, 32, was late on his way to work at the Cherrywood Manor Nursing Home in Reisterstown, where he was due in at 7 a.m.
Mr. Haney passed a field sobriety test, police said. He was taken to the Baltimore County police Woodlawn precinct station, where he was read his rights, said Lt. John P. Trentzsch, precinct shift commander. Mr. Haney took a Breathalyzer test, which registered a blood alcohol level of zero.
Lieutenant Trentzsch said Mr. Haney made a statement to police at the precinct. "He's claiming that a car cut him off which caused him to swerve off the road and onto the sidewalk," the lieutenant said. After being read his rights, Mr. Haney refused to say anything else.
Police said Mr. Haney told them he was cut off by another car. The other driver provided a different version of the morning's events when interviewed, they said.
John LaVeck, a 21-year-old Catonsville resident, said shortly after the accident that he was driving north on Woodlawn Drive in the left lane at about 30 mph when a car tried to pass him and "violently" rear-ended his car.
"I didn't see the driver," Mr. LaVeck, who makes parts for race cars, said in an interview. "I just saw a red streak go by and mow down [the] kids. . . . It seemed like children were flying next to my window. I came back, and there were broken Walkmen, bodies and shoes."
He said he was close enough to see the children's faces and described their expressions as normal-looking and not shocked.
Mr. Haney, who was not injured in the crash, was not charged yesterday and was allowed to leave the police station at 12:15 p.m. In tears, he pushed through a throng of reporters with his arm covering his face and left accompanied by his girlfriend.
"I was going to work," he said in response to a reporter's question at a nearby convenience store. Asked whether it had been just a tragic accident, he replied, "That's all it was."
Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra A. O'Connor said her office routinely reviews all automobile-related deaths before any traffic charges are filed and will review this case to determine whether vehicular manslaughter or other charges will be sought against Mr. Haney.
The intent, she said, is to avoid a situation in which someone pays a fine to resolve a minor traffic charge and, invoking the constitutional protection against being tried twice for the same crime, argues that more serious, related charges cannot be brought later.
Yesterday morning started for Ms. Fields and Mrs. Dorsey with the daily routine of getting up, having breakfast and getting the children ready for their baby sitter, a great-aunt who lives in East Baltimore.
They left their Woodlawn apartment complex and walked to the bus stop, where they planned to catch the bus to the Rogers Avenue Metro station and ride toward Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Ms. Fields does clerical work in an oncology department and Mrs. Dorsey worked in patient accounting.
Belma Golden, 38, saw the children having fun while waiting for the bus. They were playing on the grass, and one mother held a child by the hand.
"They was just happy," said Mrs. Golden, who lives in Woodlawn and was taking her husband to his job nearby. "Look at that little girl," she recalled her husband saying. "They're probably going to camp somewhere."
At 6:50 a.m., the daily routine was shattered.
"Karen Fields remembers all of the family huddled together with a purpose of staying away from the curb," said Bryan H. Potts, a Baltimore attorney representing the families of the two sisters. "She turned around and saw a flash of red."
The Mazda came careening toward them, jumped the curb and sheared off the bus stop sign. Ms. Fields was able to grab one of her children and jump out of the way. The car struck Ms. Stuart first, then hit Mrs. Dorsey and four of the children, knocking them out of their shoes and sending their bodies flying.
The first body crumpled 60 feet from the bus stop. The second lay 20 feet beyond. The farthest lay nearly 300 feet from where the carnage began. The car came to rest on the grass by the side of the road with three flat tires.
Traffic investigation and accident reconstruction teams from Baltimore County and the Maryland State Police took over, taking measurements of every facet of the accident scene. They will feed the information into a state-owned computer drafting system, which will draw a detailed depiction of the scene.
The computer will enable investigators to determine how fast the Mazda was traveling, said Lt. Minda Foxwell, commander of the county's Western Traffic Unit.
"We're pulling out all the stops," Lieutenant Foxwell said. "It's going to be a monthlong investigation, I can guarantee you."
Hours after the crash, Charles Dorsey IV, Mrs. Dorsey's husband and father of two of the dead children, described getting the news when he was awakened by a call.
"They said my family has been hit down the street. I don't know how it happened. I don't know how he hit [them]," said Mr. Dorsey, 28, an assistant chef at a hotel, who was shaking and sobbing as he spoke. "I just want to know why."
Ms. Fields was in seclusion and grieving yesterday, Mr. Potts said.
Her stepfather, Obie Green, described his family's shock. Last week, he said, the family gathered for a joyous reunion at his Harford County home -- the last time they were all together.
"It's been very hectic and depressing," said Mr. Green, 45, a supervisor for Bell Atlantic. "They were beautiful kids, full of life, and they were snapped away at this early age.
"It's not something we can prepare for, and we have to take it day by day. This is the kind of day I never want to see again."
At the scene yesterday evening, cars parked alongside Woodlawn Drive to allow passengers to lay bouquets of roses, carnations and other flowers on the ground where the children died.
A stuffed white teddy bear and a straw angel were sitting under a tree. One man got out, put flowers on the ground and knelt to pray. One flower arrangement, sent by the Social Security Administration, was signed, "A mother and employee."