Drag race suspected in fatal accident Teacher driving home was struck head-on


A Carroll County teacher killed in a head-on collision on Route 140 near Finksburg apparently was the victim of drag racing, high-speed competition that is on the rise in the county, state police said yesterday.

Geraldine Lane Wu, 42, a Westminster woman who taught middle school and had three children, was dead at the scene soon after the Monday night crash, police said. Her 14-year-old daughter, Min-li, and the other driver involved in the crash were released yesterday from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Investigators believe a 1991 Nissan sports car was racing with an unidentified vehicle, speeding east on Route 140 near Sunset Lane about 9: 30 p.m., when the Nissan went out of control. It skidded across the grass median and slammed head-on into Wu's 1997 Mitsubishi Galant.

Troopers from the Westminster barracks of the state police said they have noticed within the past month a resurgence of drag racing, a clandestine automotive sport popular in the 1950s. Often, the races are a matter of bragging rights, police said.

"Sometimes, two guys get into a testosterone contest," said 1st Sgt. Andy Mays, a state police spokesman. "One thinks his car can outrun the other, and it becomes an aggressive driving situation with total disregard toward other motorists."

Wu had just picked up her daughter, who was working on a school project with a friend in Finksburg. They were headed home, according to a family friend.

Wu, who was born in Baltimore and known as Geri, had taught reading and Spanish to eighth-graders at Mount Airy Middle School since August 1995.

"Mrs. Wu never did anything halfway," Principal Virginia Ashmore said. "If they were doing a thematic unit on the Holocaust, she would set up a trip to the Holocaust Museum. If they couldn't go she brought a speaker in.

"In her Spanish units, on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 1, she would have them bring in a favorite food of a loved one and reminisce about the person -- she's done that the two years I've been here, and it means a lot."

Charges pending

Charges are pending against the driver of the Nissan, Mark E. Eppig, 22, of the first block of Chase St. in Westminster, said police, who were searching for the driver of the unidentified vehicle said to be involved in the race.

Several county roads have become sites for the illegal races, police say.

Trooper Robert Stryjewski, who regularly patrols South Carroll, said teens and young adults with souped-up cars have painted a starting line near the dead end of Progress Way in Eldersburg and often race on the half-mile straightaway toward Route 32.

"We've seen kids sitting on hoods of cars in a parking lot there, watching the action," he said, adding that he has seen as many as 25 cars at a drag race in the Eldersburg area. "Of course, they scatter as soon as a lookout sees us coming."

Drag racers can go to the "75 & 80 Dragway" in Monrovia in Frederick County and participate legally, he said.

"Some do that, but then drive like idiots on the way home," said David P. Daggett, a deputy state's attorney for Carroll County.

'Speed contest' law

State traffic laws list drag racing as a separate charge, punishable by a maximum fine of $270 and five points on an offender's driving record, he said.

Daggett said the law allows police to charge anyone participating in a "speed contest."

"Even the flag man or flag girl who starts a race can be charged," he said.

Sgt. Robert V. Reid of the Frederick barracks said popular stretches in Frederick County include Route 140 from Taneytown to Emmitsburg, "but there's no place where it's constantly a problem."

He added, "Several roads, especially on the upper end, are relatively flat. A few years ago, there was a place near the Monocacy River, south of Frederick -- they used to go down there, and when I was a trooper first class, we would go down and watch for them."

Mike Lacher, operations manager at Westminster Speed and Sound, which sells speed-enhancing automotive parts and stereo equipment, said speeds for a quarter-mile drag race easily reach 90 to 110 mph and last 13 to 15 seconds, even for only slightly enhanced cars.

Lacher, 21, said his company once was heavily involved in speed enhancement, but has shifted to selling more stereos than parts to make cars faster.

In the Finksburg crash, air bags and seat belts were in use, according to the police report. Alcohol or drugs did not appear to be a factor, Daggett said.

Wu, the former Geraldine Frances Lane, graduated from Westminster High School in 1974. She began teaching at the Sterck School for the Deaf in Trenton, N.J., and later taught for several years at St. John School in Westminster.

Funeral is Saturday

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated for Wu at 10 a.m. Saturday at Baker Memorial Chapel at Western Maryland College, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree in 1978 and a master's degree in education in 1979.

Her husband, Laurence Ching-Fang Wu, a native of Taipei, Taiwan, has been an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at the college since 1976, school officials said.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society or to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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