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Street racing a known problem on Md. highway

The York Dispatch

WASHINGTON — Despite complaints, illegal street racing has taken place for more than 20 years down the flat, straight stretch of Maryland highway where eight fans were killed this weekend, a community leader said Sunday.

Stan Fetter, president of the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, blamed a thin police presence in the suburban Washington area for the ongoing problem.

"The police tend to get distracted by things closer to D.C. ... " Fetter said. "They tend to forget about it."

Neighbors have complained that the late-night events block off access to Route 210 from some side streets, he said.

Police say they are aware of reckless driving on the street 20 miles from Washington in Prince George's County and have been working to address it.

Authorities in neighboring Charles County said it's tough to crack down on the underground races because the people who arrange them are well-organized and have lookouts for miles.

"There's going to be no stopping them," said Sheila Howard, a paramedic in Charles County and one of the first on the scene Saturday. "There are always going to be drag racers. And they carry scanners. They know when the police are coming to them."

Early Saturday, a car apparently unconnected to a street race plowed into fans who had spilled into the roadway, just after two racing cars had sped off. Eight people were killed. Smoke from the racers' spinning tires, along with the pre-dawn darkness, may have obscured the people, police said.

The driver's name has not been released, and police said there are no charges pending against him.

Police hope to interview more witnesses and are urging anyone at the scene to come forward. But they are not actively looking for the drivers who were taking part in the illegal race because they were not directly involved in the crash, Prince George's County police Cpl. Arvel Lewis said.

Police on Sunday released the names of six victims. They are Mark Courtney, 33, of Leonardtown; Daryl Wills, 38, of Clinton; Maycol Lopez, 20, of Gaithersburg; Blaine Briscoe, 49, of La Plata; William Gaines, 61, of Nanjemoy; and Ervin Gardner, 39, of Oxon Hill.

The identities of the other two have not been confirmed, Lewis said.

Another seven people, including the driver, a passenger, and five race spectators, were injured, Lewis said. Two of the spectators were in serious condition Sunday, he said. The injuries of all the others were not considered life-threatening, he said.

Relatives and friends of several of the victims returned to the crash site Sunday to erect memorials of flowers, crosses and candles.

Irma Harris, a friend of Gardner, brought balloons with pictures of race cars on what would have been his birthday.

"It's just grief," she said through tears. "It's just a hurting feeling to have him taken like that."

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