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Officials continue to look into fatal race

Prince George's County authorities have identified the final two victims killed after a car plowed into a crowd of spectators watching an illegal drag race, as county officials continue to investigate the long-standing problem of street racing.

Otis Williams, 35, of Indian Head and Milton Pinkney, 41, of La Plata were among eight killed early Saturday when a Ford Crown Victoria drove through a smoky haze and straight into a crowd of people who had moved onto the highway to watch the race.

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Seven others, including the driver and passenger of the Crown Victoria, were injured in the crash, according to Prince George's County police. Police have not released the name of the driver, according to spokesman Cpl. Arvel Lewis.

John Erzen, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson, said Johnson will meet with officials over the course of the week to track the investigation.

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"The driver of the vehicle that hit the spectators has been very cooperative. But police have had a difficult time locating the actual people involved in the drag racing," Erzen said.

Police have said they think that debris and smoke from the spinning tires as well as the dark road - there are no streetlights - made it difficult for the approaching driver to see. Some onlookers have estimated that 150 people gathered to watch the race.

Many community leaders in the wake of the accident have criticized the county's efforts to crack down on illegal racing, but Erzen said some of the responsibility lies with the participants.

In terms of laws already in place, "it's not necessarily the issue that the laws are not strict enough. The bigger issue is the racing subculture," Erzen said.

Erzen added that Johnson was dealing with illegal racing 12 years ago as state's attorney.

At that time, Route 450 near Lanham was the main illegal drag strip. The Fire Department sprayed the road with water and foam to make it slippery and unattractive for racers, he said. "But they just move somewhere else. It's very difficult to catch up with them. What we need to address is how to move and keep up with them," Erzen said.

Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat who is one of the General Assembly's foremost experts on traffic laws, said he would like to know whether there are legal loopholes preventing authorities from cracking down on street racing.

"I would be very interested in hearing from the state police or other authorities about what they think is needed," said Bronrott.

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Drag racing has been around for years, Bronrott acknowledged, but he called last weekend's incident in Prince George's County "the ultimate tragedy."

Del. Jolene Ivey, a Prince George's County Democrat, said she thinks the county needs to find a way to increase the number of police officers on patrol to help catch offenders and possibly prevent a recurrence of an incident like last weekend's. Beyond that, she said that she expected the tragedy to spur passage of the county's bill in Annapolis seeking authority to use speed cameras.

She wondered whether such cameras could be programmed to alert police if they detect vehicles traveling above a certain speed.

Ivey added that some have asked whether there ought to be a law - or if there already is one - making it illegal to be present observing an event that is illegal, such as street racing.

"I think, overwhelmingly, just everybody feels really badly for the families of the people who died," Ivey said.

Also yesterday, AAA Mid-Atlantic released a statement urging area law enforcement agencies to "vigorously enforce all racing-related violations and to put forward more manpower to crack down on [illegal racing]."

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Each year, more than 100 people die nationwide in street racing crashes, and thousands of others are injured, the group said.

"We need tougher penalties for those engaging in illegal street racing activities and for those attending an unlawful race," spokesman Mahlon G. Anderson said in the statement.

brent.jones@baltsun.com julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.


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