Police seize car in probe of fatal hit-and-run


Anne Arundel County police said yesterday that they have seized a car that they think fatally struck a pedestrian while its driver was racing another motorist down a highway in Laurel on Sunday night.

Police said Richard McHale II of the 9300 block of Steeple Court, the car's owner, has not been arrested but that his badly damaged white Acura Integra was taken from his garage as evidence. The 1993 vehicle has a smashed windshield and other damage, they said.

Chelliah Johnson, 53, of Prince George's County was struck by a car traveling at a high speed as he crossed Route 198.

County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said he will not consider charges against McHale until police finish their investigation and a reconstruction of the accident.

"And we'd like to catch the other person," Weathersbee said.

Police said they did not arrest McHale because they do not consider him a flight risk and police typically defer to prosecutors in cases involving fatal traffic accidents, said spokesman Lt. Joseph Jordan.

Charges in the case could include reckless driving and auto manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the state's attorney said.

Police are seeking the driver of the second vehicle. "We'd like to talk to them and find out as much as we can about that night," Jordan said.

Authorities went to McHale's house after receiving a tip from a caller. He gave them permission to search his garage, but said his lawyer had advised him not to make a statement.

McHale was fined $70 for making an unsafe lane change in Prince George's County in April, according to court records.

Witnesses to the accident, including several people who were pumping fuel at a nearby gas station, said they saw two Integras - one white and the other dark-colored - racing down the highway about 9 p.m.

Johnson, an employee at the Red Carpet Inn on Route 198, had crossed more than half of the six-lane highway when he was struck by at least one of the cars. He had been on his way to pick up Chinese takeout food for himself and a co-worker.

One of the Integras pulled over briefly after the accident, then drove off, witnesses said.

Johnson's widow, Annamma, wept yesterday after learning that police had identified a suspect.

"I'd like to let them talk and ask them why they have to race like this," she said in a phone interview. "That's all I can ask now. I don't have the strength to do anything."

Annamma Johnson said she thinks the drivers were reckless, but did not hit her husband on purpose. "I don't hate anybody," she said.

She has two sons, 8-year-old Jobi and 12-year-old James. "They don't know much yet about what is death," the mother said.

A funeral service for Johnson is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at St. Bernard's Church in Riverdale.

Police ask that anyone with information call 410-222-8610.

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