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Death Car: 1923

Death Car: 1923

"Auto wreck. December 31, 1923." Continuing this week's theme of vehicular mishaps on (and off) the roads of Washington, D.C. On New Year's Eve, this car was in the drink. See the comments for details about this fatal accident in the Tidal Basin. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Look out! It's...

"Sergt. Miskell, motorcycle man."

I love the image this conjored up in my head. This may become my new online alias.

Terrific reportage, stanton_square!

Nothing like making the past come alive again! (no pun intended, sorry) This red house may well be 211 10th SW. It's across the street from Google's 212. Mr. Hammen's C Street address no longer exists. May I ask you, please? How were you able to access the coroner's inquest?

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Tidal Plunge

2 Drown When Auto Sinks in Tidal Basin

Two men were drowned and another rescued when the automobile in which they were riding crashed through a guard rail and plunged into the Tidal basin, in Potomac park, shortly after midnight.

The two victims were trapped in the big touring machine, which was submerged in 18 feet of water. Robert McLeman, 43 years old, 221 Tenth street northwest, threw himself clear of the hurtling car, and was rescued from the basin by park policemen. McLeman said one of the dead men was John Craven, residing at the Tenth street address. All he knew of the other was that he was from Virginia.

Washington Post, Dec 26, 1923

Body of Tidal Basin Victim is Identified;
Driver of Car Held

Scene of Accident Long Considered Peril
to Safety of Motorists

Essige Hammen, 50 years old, 477 C street southwest, was identified last night at the morgue as the second victim of the accident which carried an automobile, containing three men, into the Tidal basin early yesterday. Funeral services for John J. Craven, 55 years old, 211 Tenth street southwest, Hammen's companion in the automobile, will be held tomorrow in the Church of the Holy Comforter, and at the residence of his sister, Mrs. Mary A. Bellenger, 1216 D street northeast. Interment will be in Mount Olivet cemetary.
Hammen's identification was established by Samuel Scklattereggia, 481 C street southwest, brother of a huckster who employed him.

The condition of Robert McLennan, 43 years old, driver of the automobile, who was rescued from the water by park policemen, was reported much improved at Emergency hospital. He is still under police guard pending an inquest which Dr. Herbert E. Martyn, deputy coroner, said would be help Friday.

The automobile is still in 20 feet of water near the southern floodgate of the Tidal basin. Harbor police have no equipment with which to raise it. Whether the engineer commissioner's office would take means to raise the car police could not say.

The accident, it is believed, will hasten a reconstruction of the floodgate bridge, which according to Lieut. Col. C.O. Sherrill, in charge of public buildings and grounds, has been a "constant source of danger to motorists. The span is only 25 feet wide and Col. Sherrill has asked for $20,000 appropriation to widen it 10 feet.

McLennan said he was turning onto the bridge and, in order to avoid striking a car coming toward him, swerved off sharply. This, he believed, caused a break in his steering gear and he could not control the car. The machine crashed through the iron railing, hurtled 18 feet across a sloping embankment and landed 20 feet out into the basin. McLennan told the police he was driving slowly.

McLennan fell clear, but the others were trapped. A passing motorist notified a park policeman several blocks away. Sergt. Miskell, motorcycle man, despatched three other men who reached the sea wall just as McLennan was about to go under a second time. The officers, Sergt. Rease and Private Jenkins and Rainey, formed a human ladder and pulled him ashore.

Washington Post, Dec 27, 1923

Robert McLennan was a stone worker and sculptor. At the coroner's inquest, the park policemen who pulled McLennan from the water testified that they had smelled alcohol on his breath. McLennan admitted he had had a glass of wine, but blamed the accident on defective steering apparatus. He was subsequently indicted for murder, which was later reduced to manslaughter. In the end he was acquitted of all charges. He died July 7th, 1927 as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident when his car collided with that of Detective Arthur T. Fihelly on July 4th, 1927. Again there were reports of alcohol on his breath after the accident but an inquest failed to reach a conclusion that he had been driving under the influence of liquor. Karma?

Update I: Well, maybe not karma. After more careful reading the newspaper reports of the coroner's inquest, McLennan died by what today moght be considered gross negligence, if not criminal action, by the police. McLennan was pinned under the wreckage of his car: after being taken to hospital he was examined for spinal injury. A doctor declared he was "O.K." and the police subsequently carted him off to the police station for questioning. While in police custody, he lost movement and sensation in his legs and was returned to hospital where he died from the consequences of fractured cervical vertebrae and hemorrhage.

Update II: In reply to Stinky: Coroner's inquest as reported in Washington Post, July 9th, 1927. Also, the google streetview in Stinky's post is from NE, not SW. Everyone gets screwed up by DC's quadrant system at some point.

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