By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO,

A group of residents who have lived through the anguish of losing their loved ones on a dangerous stretch of Route 210 in southern Maryland gathered June 8 to remember those who perished.  While Prince George’s County Police continue to increase measures that would curtail the number of fatalities, they acknowledge there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve safety on Indian Head Highway.

In a solemn and emotional tribute, the 66 people who lost their lives over the last 12 years were remembered by friends and family with doves being released into the air.  

Families and friends who lost loved ones along Indian Highway, the most dangerous highway in the state, gathered to remember the lives lost and rally for driver safety. (Courtesy Photo)

While remembering those who died, many attendees acknowledged that the increase in the number of speed cameras still haven’t made the impact on safety that would deem the Indian Head Highway safety initiative successful.  Prince George’s County and Maryland State Police have intensified patrols throughout the stretch of highway that runs from Oxon Hill to Accokeek, but it still remains statistically the most dangerous thoroughfare in the state.

“When you drive past a speed camera and you slow down, only to speed up once you get out of range — that means you haven’t really changed and your attitude about safety hasn’t changed,” Prince George’s County Council member Monique Anderson-Walker, whose district encompasses Indian Head Highway, told WTOP radio news.

Anderson-Walker and Prince George’s County Fire Chief Benjamin Barksdale previously helped launch a County-wide auto safety initiative by addressing an assembly of students at Oxon Hill High School in March and encouraged them to wear seat belts using the #DrivingItHome hashtag on social media.

After a December crash when three children died, Prince George’s County police began more aggressive enforcement along Indian Head Highway.  At least three new speed cameras have been placed along the stretch. More than 3,000 tickets have been issued during the first quarter of 2019 tickets, after 10,000 were issued in 2018.   However, residents and community leaders realize that many drivers manipulate the system by slowing down in areas near speed cameras and DUI checkpoints, but continue operating dangerously while outside those spots.  

“What we really need to do is change driver behavior,” 7th District Commander Major Timothy Muldoon said at a community meeting earlier this year in Fort Washington. “Warnings are great, but I don’t think anything sends a message and changes driver behavior like writing a ticket.”

The 210 Traffic Safety Committee will continue to hold monthly meetings to discuss future improvements and community awareness efforts. Their next meeting, scheduled for June 17, will take place at the Seventh District Police Precinct in Prince George’s County.

They are hoping for harsher penalties that will dissuade drivers from openly disregarding speed limits and other moving violations.  

The committee’s goal is to push this message through, not only those directly impacted by fatalities, but also community organizations such as civic groups, churches and homeowner’s associations.

Nonetheless, that didn’t ease the pain for the people outside the Beloved Community Church in Accokeek, where loved ones of those tragically lost along the dangerous roadway gathered in rememberance of them.  

Javon Hawkins, a 21-year-old with a promising future in track, was killed in a 2005 auto accident after running an Olympic qualifying time and seemed to be on the verge of blossoming into a star athlete. His former track and field coach at  Frederick Douglass High School spoke after his former student’s name was read among the list of others who had been killed along Route 210 at the memorial.

“I still haven’t recovered,” said coach Joel Woodyear.  “He ran an Olympic qualifying time and that wasn’t the greatest thing he had achieved.”