Van's driver not at fault

The Baltimore Sun

The driver of a van that jumped a curb Saturday in West Baltimore and struck two boys, killing one of them, was not at fault in the accident, police said yesterday.

In the chaotic scene that unfolded after the accident, enraged onlookers assaulted a female passenger who they thought was responsible, police said. But another car clipped the van, forcing it onto the sidewalk, said Baltimore Police Department spokesman Sterling Clifford.

He declined to identify the woman who was attacked but said she was released from a local hospital yesterday.

A 4-year-old boy injured in the accident also was released from the hospital, Clifford said. A 3-year-old boy was killed, he said. The children's names have not been released, but a woman who identified herself as a close family friend said that the boys are brothers.

Yesterday evening, large teddy bears, candles, a toy truck and a football formed a makeshift tribute at the site of the crash in the 1000 block of W. Fayette St. Neighbors and family friends of the boys, stunned and angered over the accident, disputed police claims that onlookers assaulted the female passenger.

The accident occurred shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday, Clifford said, when a small red car attempting to turn left from the right lane struck a Dodge minivan, forcing the van onto the sidewalk. Earlier reports had identified the victim as a girl.

"As far as we can ascertain, the accident is the fault of the red vehicle and not at all the fault of the driver of the van," he said.

What happened to the female passenger, Clifford said, illustrates why it is important that people not try to take the law into their own hands.

"It's very important when people witness an incident that they recognize the appropriate response is to call the police and let the police officers do their jobs," he said.

After the accident, two of the three people who were in the van ran a block or two up the street to flag down help from a University of Maryland Medical Center police officer, Clifford said.

Meanwhile, a woman who stayed with the van was assaulted by others who had seen the van career onto the sidewalk and hit the children, Clifford said.

"It was a fairly chaotic scene," he said. "We're not sure to what extent her injuries were related to the accident or to the assault afterwards."

Police pulled over the red car suspected of striking the van a short time after the accident at Caton Avenue and Interstate 95, Clifford said. They found marks on the vehicle that were consistent with its having struck the van, he said.

"The driver and the passenger were brought to police headquarters, interviewed and released," Clifford said. "Typically in a case like this, the state's attorney's office will make a decision on any charges being filed."

Clifford said he did not know how many people were involved in assaulting the woman or whether criminal charges might be filed against them.

"There is an ongoing investigation into everything that occurred last night," he said. "It's all still under investigation."

Yesterday evening, people in the neighborhood gave their account of the tragedy.

Latonda Wyatt, who lives in the block and said she is close to the family, said about 20 people were outside at the time of the accident, including a handful of children younger than 6. Wyatt said she saw the red car hit the van, and that the driver of the van had control of the vehicle even after she was hit. She said the driver could have run into a parked car or nearby fire hydrant, rather than jump the curb.

Wyatt said the driver and passengers in the van appeared to be "trying to flee." She said neighbors and some relatives grabbed one of the van's passengers and held her so she wouldn't leave before police arrived.

Wyatt added that family members don't understand why no one is being held accountable for the accident.

"The driver stepped on the gas and accelerated onto the curb," she said.

Family members said the boys' mother is distraught.

"The mother is just devastated," Wyatt said.

Nicole Tillman said she was the first to attend to the injured 3-year-old. She said she was visiting inside Wyatt's home but ran out after hearing the commotion.

She said the boy was wedged between the van and marble steps.

"I just tried to grab the baby," Tillman said.

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