The crime scene was grisly: Blood was splattered on the windshield, hood and front fender of Michael Razzio Simmons' car, and a young man lay dead across the street with stab wounds to the neck.
But the reason Simmons gave for the altercation that left Patrick John Walker, 23, dead on a Bel Air street Friday afternoon, was equally disturbing. Simmons told police Walker had cut him off in traffic.
Yesterday, about 200 of Walker's family and friends gathered at St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air to mourn, recalling the recent college graduate as a quiet man who cared about others and led a simple life.
"Putting Pat and violence in the same sentence is incomprehensible," said his aunt, Barbara Murray. "If ever there was a kind, gentle, peace-loving soul, it was Pat."
The incident has cast a fresh spotlight on road rage, an extreme form of aggressive driving often attributed to congestion and lengthy commutes on slow-moving urban thoroughfares. Yet Walker's killing happened on a sleepy side street in downtown Bel Air, a community that has not seen a homicide in more than 20 years.
"There are more drivers, more congestion, more distractions, and, if anything, we seem to be, as a society, more rude today than 10 years ago," said Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Incidents of road rage across the nation have led to drivers shooting each other or driving each other into fatal accidents. Researchers say the incidents can be curbed by exhibiting better road manners, but largely have to do with the psyche of those committing the acts.
A 1997 study commissioned by the AAA foundation examined more than 10,000 violent aggressive driving incidents nationwide and found that the majority of the aggressors were young males with criminal records. But hundreds of other motorists who committed violence were successful men and women without known histories of crime, violence, or alcohol or drug abuse.
Conversely, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration analyzed driving records of 300 people who had been ordered by a judge to attend classes at Stephen Stosny's Germantown center for resolving family violence. The study found that more than two-thirds of them had several aggressive driving violations.
"In our research, people who [commit road rage] typically have a long chain of resentment," said Stosny, a psychologist who sits on an aggressive-driving task force formed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "They get in the car feeling resentful about something happening at work or at home, and an obnoxious incident hits them much harder."
According to police, Simmons was driving south on Bond Street in downtown Bel Air when he said Walker cut him off. Simmons followed Walker a few blocks before the cars came to a stop sign on a little-used alley that empties onto Churchville Road.
Simmons, 19, of Fallston told police that he reached for a knife in his vehicle's center console and got out of the car when he saw Walker exit his black Nissan Altima. He said Walker ran into the knife, though he added that he punched Walker with the knife in his hand, police said.
Witnesses tell a different story. They said Simmons reached into the driver's side window of Walker's car as Walker waited at a stop sign. Walker got out of the vehicle, but not to fight -- he was bleeding from a neck wound and staggering toward Simmons' car, witnesses told police.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Through his lawyer, Simmons, who has been charged with first-degree murder, issued a statement yesterday that called the incident a "horrible tragedy."
"We wish to extend shared grief and heartfelt condolence to the family and friends of Patrick Walker. ... This has been a nightmare for both families, their friends, loved ones and all concerned."
Simmons, who was described by his lawyer as a former student at Harford Community College and a former assistant football coach in an area recreation league, was out on bail at the time of the incident as he awaited trial on charges stemming from an August 2005 incident in which he is accused of beating another man while yelling racial epithets.
According to charging documents from that case, police said Simmons and the three others accused of attacking the man believed he had taken $50 from the cupholder of one of their vehicles.
Yesterday, in a chapel filled with mourners dressed in black, the three women seated in front wore pink and red, a symbolic gesture that family members said was intended to celebrate the life of their son, brother and boyfriend.
Family members were stunned by Walker's death. His older sister, Jennifer, said he rarely opened up to her, but that that was changing as they grew older.
"My father said Pat didn't have anything to repent for, that's why he was taken so soon," she told the mourners.