Through the heartbreak of losing her only son, Cindy Hughes has resolved to find and bring to justice the other drivers involved in a deadly speeding contest along an Eldersburg highway last fall.
She is posting fliers throughout the South Carroll neighborhood promising a $5,000 reward to anyone who can offer police information about the Nov. 7 accident that claimed the life of 21-year-old Joshua S. Hughes.
"This is not about revenge," she said. "It is about justice. I know my son was at fault, too, but these others just left him there to die on the highway. I can't get past that. They didn't know then that there was nothing they could do to help him."
It started out as a typical fall Friday. A football game had just ended at Liberty High School and hundreds of teen-agers were making their way home or to the nearest pizza parlor. The last of the shoppers and the dinner crowd also were spilling onto the roads.
Shortly after 9 p.m., several cars became involved in a speeding contest, racing north along Route 32 near the high school. The drivers started weaving in and out of traffic at speeds that exceeded 80 mph, police said.
Joshua Hughes, who police said was one of the speeders, lost control of his 1992 Plymouth Laser and struck a utility pole. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The other drivers involved in the race fled so quickly that witnesses could neither identify the type nor the number of vehicles involved, police said.
Cindy Hughes can recall every detail of that evening. Her daughter, Angela Ingram, called to tell her there had been a bad accident. Hughes knew Josh would be on his way home from work at Russell Automotive in Catonsville and she tried several times to reach him on his cell phone. Fearing Josh might be hurt, she went to the accident scene on Route 32 near Progress Way. She parked her car at a nearby shopping center and walked to the highway.
As soon as she saw the mangled blue car - the one she had helped her son buy two days before - she knew.
"I saw his body next to the car with a sheet over it," she said. "The police kept telling me they were sorry, but they wouldn't let me go to him."
In the midst of her grief, Hughes received an $11,000 bill from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. for damage to the utility pole. The utility has since forwarded the invoice to Hughes' insurance company, said Rose Kendig, a BGE spokeswoman.
"This is an unfortunate situation, but our policy is to seek reimbursement for our equipment," Kendig said.
A single mother who operates a day care in her home, Hughes has little money to offer as a reward, but, with help from her family, she put together an amount that she hopes might entice someone to come forward with information.
"I wanted to make sure it was enough money to attract somebody," she said. "I know somebody knows. If I had $100,000, I would offer it, but this is all I can afford."
State police continue to investigate the accident and are still looking for witnesses. The lead investigator, Cpl. John Rose, said he has no experience on how a reward might help in an investigation.
"Maybe the money will work where civil conscience does not," Rose said. "It will just take one kid out there to help us out. We know there are many who know about this."
The other drivers involved in the speeding contest could face manslaughter charges and the possibility of prison.