‘HEARTBREAKING’ LOSS FOR SHERIFF’S FAMILY
A trip to the airport to pick up children returning from summer vacation turned tragic on Tuesday when a flatbed delivery truck slammed into the back of a Warsaw family’s car.
The wreck in Millersville, Md., killed the three people in the back seat, including Bethany Dempsey, 37, and Lauren White, 14—daughter and granddaughter of King George County Sheriff Steve Dempsey.
Abigail Cullen, 7, also died, and her father and brother, who were sitting in the front, remain hospitalized.
The initial collision set off a chain reaction that included five other vehicles, according to the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
“I’ve never seen an accident scene that was quite as bad,” Lt. Glenn Shanahan of Anne Arundel said in a story on Capital Gazette.com, based in Annapolis. “It’s tragic as hell.”
Word spread on social networks and throughout King George County, where Steve Dempsey has worked in the Sheriff’s Office for more than 40 years. His father, the late Rev. Willis Dempsey, was well known throughout the Fredericksburg region, and his brother, Carlin Dempsey, pastors a church in North Stafford.
“If you know Steve Dempsey and you know his family, he and his wife, Charlene, are two of the finest people you’d ever want to meet,” said Gary Butler, a Realtor in King George. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
The day of the fatal crash was Sheriff Dempsey’s 60th birthday.
‘THE NORMAL CHAOS’
Bethany Dempsey and Michael Cullen II, both 37, each had two children from previous marriages and had been together for several years, said Kelly Lewis, who went through King George schools with Dempsey.
She moved from King George to live with Cullen in Warsaw, and their blended family became active in the community and at Rappahannock Church of Christ, Lewis said.
“She seemed so happy where she was in her life,” Lewis said. “She was so proud of how all the kids were doing.”
Besides Lauren, Dempsey had a 10-year-old, Logan White. Their father, James White, lives in King George.
Cullen’s children, Michael Jr., who’s 15 and known as “Bubba,” and Abigail, 7, had spent the last month visiting their mother, Shannon, in northwestern Florida.
Lauren also had spent time this summer on the Outer Banks, according to Bethany Dempsey’s Facebook page.
Things were quieter around the house—and the lack of activity, at times, saddened the mother.
“Three of my four kids are out of the state with friends/family,” Dempsey posted on Aug. 19. “I have enjoyed this time with Logan and Mike but [the others] really need to come home soon. We miss them so much and want our home back to the normal chaos.”
‘I HATE LONG CAR RIDES’
On Tuesday, Dempsey, Cullen and Lauren headed to Baltimore–Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to pick up Bubba and Abby, friends said. Logan was with his father.
They got the kids and headed back. The Anne Arundel police said Cullen was driving a 2009 Toyota Camry, going south on State Route 3 in Millersville. The area is about 13 miles south of the airport.
As traffic increased near the State Route 32 overpass about 5 p.m., vehicles slowed. But an International flatbed truck, driven by Jason Pagaypya, 36, of Waldorf, was traveling close to the posted speed of 50 miles per hour, according to the police report.
He slammed into the back of the Toyota, where all five occupants wore seat belts.
Dempsey, her daughter, and Abigail, who were all in the back seat, died. Cullen and his son were taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where the father remains in critical but stable condition.
His son’s condition is serious, according to the hospital. That’s one grade better than critical.
Four people in other vehicles were treated and released from the hospital.
The preliminary investigation showed driver error on the part of the truck driver, according to the Anne Arundel police. The investigation is continuing, and police are consulting with the State Attorney’s Office.
Lauren, who would have been a high school sophomore this fall, was posting messages online, on the way home. Her last message, according to friend Clara Brabo, includes a photo of Lauren with her blond hair to the side and a pout on her face. She wrote: “I hate long car rides.”
Marilyn Johnson, who has worked with Sheriff Dempsey for almost 30 years, was handling calls for him on Tuesday. He’s involved with various organizations, and representatives from law enforcement groups throughout the region and state called to express their condolences, she said.
“Every single sheriff’s office” in surrounding counties called, she said. Officers said they would cover King George duties during the funerals, so employees can attend the services and support the sheriff.
“Which has been great and much appreciated,” Johnson said. “His family is our family.”
She’s taken diligent notes, recording the name of each person who’s called. Usually, when tragedy strikes, “he’s the first responder,” the one who always makes sure the family is supported.
“Now it’s our time to do it for him,” she said.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete. The Rappahannock Church of Christ in Warsaw held a prayer vigil on Wednesday for the families.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425