A wheel fell off a truck being towed Wednesday on the Capital Beltway's outer loop, crossed the median, stuck the grill of a tractor-trailer and ricocheted back across three travel lanes before landing on Channing M. Quinichett's Honda Civic.
The wheel landed on the car's roof and front windshield, killing Quinichett, a University of Maryland senior, as she drove to a prenatal massage appointment.
"Half a second earlier, she'd be 44 feet ahead; half a second later, she'd be 44 feet behind," said first sgt. Russell Newell of the Maryland State Police. "It's truly a horrific crash."
As she drove, Quinichett, 21, of Halethorpe called her sister and mother to talk over possible names for the baby girl due in five months: Reagan Elizabeth was a leading contender. They hung up about 1 p.m., five minutes or so before the trucks wheel broke free between the U.S. 1 and Kenilworth Avenue exits in Prince George's County.
"Channing should not have been killed," said Tracy Quinichett, her mother. "She was driving along the highway just as you and I and millions of other people do everyday. For the tire to fly off of that truck and strike her, something went wrong, sombody didn't screw a nut of tight enough or something."
Newell said investigators do not know why the wheel became detached from the delivery truck, which was being towed from Arlington County, Va. to Westminster for repairs. Any crimanal charges or citations in the case would not come until after the police investigation is complete.
Tajinder Dutta, the driver of the tractor-trailer that was also struck on the inner loop Wednesday, said the wheel approached him so fast he could not avoid it.
"I've never seen anything like that," he said