The driver of the vehicle that killed six highway workers in a construction zone on I-695 last month entered an opening in a protective barrier meant for construction vehicles before hitting the workers, according to a preliminary report released Thursday from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The fatal crash occurred on March 22 as a 2017 Acura TLX collided with a 2017 Volkswagen Jetta and entered a work zone on the shoulder of the I-695 inner loop near I-70, the report said.

“At the time of the crash, both vehicles were reportedly traveling at speeds in excess of the posted speed limit and greater than the speed of the adjacent traffic,” according to federal investigators.

The posted speed limit in the location of the crash is 55 mph.

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The 54-year-old driver of the Acura, identified by the Maryland State Police as Lisa Adrienne Lea, spun out of control and passed through an opening in the concrete barriers that keep the work zone separate from the highway, the report said.

“The opening was one of several access points designed to allow construction vehicles into the work zone,” according to the report.

Crews were in the median of the highway as part of a project to reduce congestion on the Baltimore Beltway by rehabbing shoulders, improving drainage and installing new signage. Both vehicles were about 1.8 miles into the area of construction when they collided, the report said. The Acura hit various construction materials and struck and killed six workers in the median site before rolling over and coming to a stop, the report said.

The victims were Rolando Ruiz, 46, of Laurel; Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, 43, of Frederick; Jose Armando Escobar, 52, of Frederick; Mahlon Simmons III, 30, of Union Bridge; Mahlon Simmons II, 52, of Union Bridge; and Sybil Lee Dimaggio, 46, of Glen Burnie.

Five of the workers were employed by Concrete General Inc., a Gaithersburg-based contracting business, the company’s owners said in a statement.

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Images released by the NTSB show the front-end of the Acura suffered significant damage and the roof caved in after the vehicle rolled over. Meanwhile, the Volkswagen has minor damage to the front passenger’s side wheel and front bumper.

​Post-crash photographs of the 2017 Acura TLX, left, and the 2017 Volkswagen Jetta, right. Courtesy: National Transportation Safety Board.

Lea received treatment for her injuries at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Maryland State Police identified the Volkswagen driver as 20-year-old Melachi Brown, and said he did not report any injuries.

Only 12 other work zone crashes resulted in more fatalities between 1980 and 2020, making the incident among one of the deadlier work zone crashes in Maryland and the U.S. during that period, according to a Banner analysis of Fatality Analysis Reporting System data maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The two vehicles were traveling in the same direction and sideswiped each other, which is a common type of crash on the Baltimore Beltway, according to a Banner analysis of Maryland Statewide Vehicle Crashes. In fall 2022, there were at least 104 sideswipe crashes.

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NTSB’s preliminary report came three weeks after the fatal crash, and their investigation includes support from the Maryland State Police and the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Full investigations are completed in 12-24 months, Peter Knudson, an NTSB public affairs officer previously told The Banner.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

Baltimore Banner data reporters Ryan Little and Nick Thieme contributed to this report.

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Correction: This story has been updated to correct Mahlon Simmons III’s age.

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

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