When Patricia Nazzal videotaped a congressional motorcade passing her car on Interstate 70, she ended up documenting a fatal crash just ahead of her.
Maryland State Police said one person was killed Wednesday morning in a four-vehicle crash as other motorists stopped for the motorcade on westbound I-70 at the ramp from northbound Interstate 270.
Police had not released the identity of the person who died as of late Wednesday night.
The motorcade was part of a trip by U.S. Senate Democrats to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where they gathered Wednesday for a retreat. Authorities did not say who was in the vehicles in the motorcade that was connected to the crash.
Nazzal, who lives in Frederick, said she pulled over on I-70 because she saw an officer on a motorcycle gesturing for traffic to move to the right. While she waited, she started videotaping because she thought the motorcade might include the president or someone else prominent.
Her videotape shows vehicles stopping short as they approach I-70 and crashing. It also shows the subsequent fiery scene and people tending to someone who was pulled from a vehicle in the crash.
She heard the pop-pop of explosions.
“It was like something you would see on a movie,” she said. “It was really scary.”
Emergency workers responded to the crash at about 9 a.m., state police said. Three dump trucks and a Nissan sport utility vehicle were involved. No vehicles from the motorcade were struck or damaged, said Lt. Wayne Wachsmuth, commander of the Maryland State Police barrack in Frederick.
State police said in a press release that two drivers of dump trucks — Shawn Gill, 46, of Gaithersburg, and Mark Tew, 27, of Hanover — were taken to Frederick Memorial Hospital. Another driver, Richard Aldar, 53, of Sykesville, refused treatment at the scene.
“There was a congressional motorcade coming up northbound 270, coming up the ramp here and merging onto westbound 70,” Wachsmuth said from the scene. “As they came up here, they blocked and stopped all traffic on westbound 70. Part of the motorcade made it through, but a dump truck came through and he interrupted the motorcade after striking a car.”
Police said in the press release that Aldar stopped in a lane on westbound I-70 because of the motorcade passing through. Tew stopped his truck, as did the driver of the Nissan SUV.
Gill’s truck slammed into the rear of the Nissan, causing all four vehicles to hit one another, the press release said. There was an explosion, and three vehicles caught fire. The dump truck in front, closest to the motorcade, was burned by the flames, Wachsmuth said.
Heavy fire and black smoke could be seen and two explosions were heard as far as a quarter-mile from the crash.
Eva Malecki, the communications director for the U.S. Capitol Police, said the motorcade was being escorted to Shepherdstown when the crash took place.
“No [U.S. Capitol Police] or motorcade vehicles were involved in the accident,” Malecki wrote in an email statement to The Frederick News-Post. “USCP officers, along with the Maryland State Police, stopped to render aid and assistance at the scene.”
Tim Zink, press secretary for Sen. Ben Cardin (D), confirmed that the lawmaker was present for a Senate Democratic retreat in Shepherdstown on Wednesday.
While both Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) traveled to the retreat, they drove in personal vehicles and were not part of the motorcade, according to a joint statement issued by Van Hollen’s and Cardin’s offices Wednesday afternoon.
“Our prayers and condolences go out to the families of the victims of the crash today,” the statement reads. “We are heartbroken that a traffic stop on a busy Maryland road ended in such a tragic way.”
Zink said the office read articles about the crash and “are all concerned,” but he didn’t have any information about the motorcade itself or any firsthand accounts from the senator.
The motorcade was being escorted by three Maryland State Police motorcycle units and a number of U.S. Capitol Police units, Wachsmuth said.
Nazzal said she one of the officers on a motorcycle gestured with his arm for traffic to move to the side, so she pulled over. The officer made the same gesture to traffic entering I-70, she said.
At least two buses and several SUVs were part of the motorcade, said Ed Delaney, an Olney resident who was driving behind the procession on his way to work when the crash happened.
“At first, I was thinking the motorcade was involved, but when I got a closer look, I actually saw what looked like one of the dump trucks — it looked like it was on its side at first,” Delaney said, adding that at least one of the buses in the motorcade was stuck behind the crash for about 45 minutes before police let it through.
The crash and investigation caused heavy traffic around Frederick, including steady lines of traffic on Patrick Street through downtown, as drivers looked to find a way around the closure. Lanes were closed for about seven hours, police said.
The stretch of I-70 where the crash occurred handles from 83,442 to 96,260 vehicles on a typical day, according to the State Highway Administration.
Traffic was complicated by having to detour truck traffic onto U.S. 15, already a busy commuter road, SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said
“As you can imagine, we had some pretty long queues,” he said.
Staff writers Danielle E. Gaines, Kelsi Loos, Ryan Marshall and Andrew Schotz contributed to this report.