Image: Car at crash scene
Fox 5 News WTTG via AP
Police surround a car that plowed into a street festival in Washington on Saturday. news services
updated 6/4/2007 3:25:44 PM ET 2007-06-04T19:25:44

The woman charged with plowing a car through a crowded street festival at speeds up to 70 mph had been “smoking crack all day long,” Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, citing statements from the woman and witnesses.

At least 40 people were injured as the car sent people and baby strollers flying, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said Sunday.

Tonya Bell, 30, was preliminarily charged with aggravated assault while armed, with the “armed” designation referring to use of a vehicle. She faced a hearing in District of Columbia Superior Court on Monday.

Authorities believe Bell, of Oxon Hill, Md., was going about 70 mph Saturday evening when she drove through Unifest, a church-sponsored street festival in southeast Washington. She was treated for an ankle injury, police said.

Officials were still waiting for toxicology results.

Driver seemed to be laughing
Bell appeared to be laughing as she drove the car with flattened tires and broken windows into the crowd, said Linda Greene, who saw Bell’s car from her porch.

“The car just passed so fast, and all of a sudden I just heard people screaming,” said Denise Jackson. “I turned around, and it was like bodies falling out of the sky.”

Her son, 4-year-old Marcellus Jackson, was thrown out of the speeding car’s path by his father, Fenty said. Marcellus suffered a broken leg. His father, Vincent Hayes, was hit by the car but was OK.

Police said Bell was seen driving erratically and had struck an unmarked police car 20 minutes before the injuries at the street festival. Police Cmdr. Patrick Burke said officers had followed Bell’s station wagon but were told to stop because the traffic violation did not pose a threat to officers.

Alan Etter, a spokesman for the District of Columbia fire department, said authorities believe Bell was going about 70 mph when she tore through the festival. Litter and debris from food stands were scattered in the street.

Witnesses described an extended period of mayhem in which the driver started off slowly through some closed streets and finally hit the accelerator on the avenue running through the heart of Unifest, an annual event sponsored by a church. The car hit a stage where people were dancing, witnesses said. It was not clear what finally caused it to stop.

‘A deranged state of mind’
Ryland Anderson, 19, and Philemon Walker, 24, told The Washington Post they were about to cross the street as the festival was winding down when the car sped past. They described strollers being flung into the air and said they saw the body of a man apparently lodged in the station wagon’s wheel well.

“She was driving like ’if you’re in my way, you’re going to get hit,”’ Walker said.

David White, president of the Chicago Shannon Civic Association, said Bell grew up in the neighborhood and is well known. White said he and other residents saw her in the area on Saturday morning, driving erratically and clipping parked cars. He said he confronted her, but she acted like she didn’t know him.

“I said, ’Tonya, what are you doing?’ She was sweating like a race horse. We tried our best to stop her. ... She was just in a deranged state of mind,” White said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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