OCEAN CITY – Almost lost amid the attention given to the big downtown fire over the weekend was the terrible tragedy three days earlier on Coastal Highway near 62nd Street.
Around 4:34 p.m. last Thursday, a woman carrying her 3-year-old child was struck by an SUV as she attempted to cross Coastal Highway at 62nd Street just south of the base of the Route 90 bridge. The child, later identified as Hadiya Khumalo, was taken to Atlantic General Hospital and was pronounced dead a short time later. The mother, Zanele Khumalo, 36, was flown to PRMC in Salisbury and later died.
The SUV was registered as a government vehicle and was driven by a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. A passenger in the vehicle was also a member of the Coast Guard. Although the investigation is not complete, the incident is being called an unfortunate accident and no charges have been filed.
Hours later, an eerily similar incident unfolded in Pocomoke when a local woman and her 4-year-old daughter were struck and killed while attempting to cross Route 13 near the Wal-Mart. Delia Bailey, 20, of Pocomoke, was carrying her 4-year-old daughter when she attempted to cross Route 13 around 10:33 p.m. last Thursday, or about six hours after the tragedy in Ocean City.
According to police reports, the mother and child were not using a designated crosswalk nor were they at an intersection when they attempted to cross the busy highway and were struck by a Chrysler van.
While the two tragedies were similar in terms of the end result, the situation in Ocean City was vastly different than the accident in Pocomoke. According to police reports, the victims were in the crosswalk immediately south of 62nd Street, but were crossing against the pedestrian signal. There is a countdown clock at the intersection, but it is uncertain if the victim attempted to cross the highway and ran out of time, or if she was confused by the cars stopped at a red light waiting to turn onto Route 90.
However, several witnesses painted a picture of the events leading up to the tragedy that appears consistent with the latter. One witness who works in a nearby real estate office recalled seeing the victims on the west side of Coastal Highway north of Route 90 near the T-Shirt Factory moments prior to the accident. Another witness who was driving by just minutes before the accident recalled seeing the woman with the child in the intersection looking confused.
From witness accounts, it appears the mother successfully crossed Route 90 from north to south before attempting to cross Coastal Highway in the crosswalk at 62nd Street. Realtor Ed Balcerzak, who works out of the nearby Remax office, was in traffic just a few cars behind the SUV that struck the mother and child and confirmed the victims were attempting to cross against a green traffic signal.
“She was crossing Coastal Highway from the tennis courts area,” he said. “She got to the median with the little girl in her arms and I guess she got confused. There were two lanes of cars waiting to turn on to [Route] 90 and they were stopped at a red light, so maybe she thought it was safe to go. It’s confusing there. She was probably looking at the line of cars stopped waiting to turn on Route 90.”
Early reports seemed to suggest the victims were struck head-on by the SUV, but Balcerzak said it appeared the truck clipped the woman from the side, sending her back to the side and the child forward.
“The lady got thrown back maybe 15-20 feet, and the little girl got thrown forward and ended up on the other side,” he said. “She didn’t get hit head on. The truck – a Ford Excursion I think – kind of grazed her from the side. All of the damage on the truck was on the front driver’s side between the mirror and the front.”
Immediately after the collision, traffic stopped in every direction as bystanders raced to administer help to the two victims, according to Remax Director of Operations Marcy Abbott, whose office overlooks the entire intersection. Abbott said this week she and others in her office heard the collision and immediately called 911.
“Traffic stopped on its own without the police there yet,” she said. “The mother was on the street in front of the tennis courts, lying on her side with somebody talking to her and holding her head.”
While the woman ended up not far from the point of impact, the little girl ended up closer to the east side of Coastal Highway. Another woman attempted to administer CPR to the young victim.
“The little girl was in the far right lane on the east side of the highway near J/R’s and her shoes were all the way up by our building on the other side of the intersection,” she said. “Somebody, a girl, was administering CPR to the child and she was quite professional.”
Abbott said it felt like an agonizing amount of time elapsed between the collision and time police and paramedics arrived. She also said the traffic stopped in all directions compounded the rescue efforts.
“Nobody could get out of the way because of all the traffic,” she said. “It seemed like it took forever for the paramedics to arrive, but it wasn’t that long in hindsight. Time is pretty relative when something so tragic happens. Time stopped. It literally stood still.”
The unidentified woman continued to administer to the victims, as did others, until the police and paramedics arrived, according to Abbott.
“Everybody jumped in and helped,” she said. “The paramedics were in a difficult position because there was no way to get to them any quicker. The girl continued to administer CPR to the little girl until paramedics arrived. It looked like she was overcome by her efforts. She just collapsed out of exhaustion and concern.”
While the intersection appears to be designed properly with the crosswalk and the countdown clock, some questioned whether the intersection and others throughout the resort need revisiting. Abbott said she hoped the latest tragedy would re-open the dialogue about pedestrian safety.
“I know terrible things happen and sometimes there is just no way to prevent them, but maybe we need to take a closer look at some of these intersections,” she said. “The crosswalk has a countdown clock, but maybe they’re not long enough. I hope this serves as a catalyst to trigger some more conversation about some of these things.”
Little is known about the victims other than their names and ages, but it appears they may have been foreign. It is uncertain whether the victim understood the traffic patterns and the signage, but with a large number of foreigners in the resort, particularly thousands of summer workers, it is a point worth discussing, according to Abbott.
“It sounds like she was foreign,” she said. “Are the signs understandable for everybody? We have a lot of foreign kids here in the summer. Do they understand the rules and the traffic patterns? I’m not sure.”