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Searching for Hit-and-Run Driver

Investigators, friends remain hopeful in Solomon King case.

Of the 17 pedestrian fatalities in Montgomery County in 2004, two were the result of hit-and-run accidents, and only one remains unsolved.

Thomas Wootton High School junior Solomon J. King, 16, was struck while walking with two friends on the 14000 block of Travilah Road near his North Potomac home on Nov. 12, 2004. A black, four-door 1998-2000 Honda Accord veered off the road, clipped a mailbox and then hit Solomon, grazing one of his friends. Solomon died the following morning at Suburban Hospital.

Almost seven months later, neither the car nor its driver has been located.

But friends and family of Solomon — who gathered June 24 to renew their pleas for help solving the case — pointed to the outcome of the other 2004 hit-and-run fatality case as a reason for hope. The driver in that case was arrested in January, seven months after that crash took place.

That arrest came after investigators followed a trail of physical evidence to the driver’s address, and used cell phone records and forensic evidence to obtain an arrest warrant, according to Montgomery County Police spokesman Derek Baliles.

Investigators have less to work with in the King case.

At the gathering Friday, Det. Brent Kearney held up the passenger side mirror recovered from the accident site — the only piece of evidence recovered. The mirror was used to narrow the make and model of the car to a 1998-2000 Accord LX or EX. But an MVA search of cars matching that description yielded more than 8,000 cars for 1999 alone, and that number doesn’t include cars registered in other states. Fingerprint analysis on the mirror was also unsuccessful.

Kearney said that he had personally investigated 86 leads, with several more still pending. Those leads have included information about cars matching the police description, and even some different models that Kearney said he investigated anyway, just to be sure. Because of the damage to the car, investigators have also contacted auto repair shops throughout the area and as far away as West Virginia and North Carolina.

“Unfortunately right now leads have gotten pretty next to slim. We're trying to appeal to the public — anybody that might have seen or heard anything, anything that might have been unusual — please give us a call,” said Kearney, who has led the police investigation. "All it takes is one little phone call. It takes that one little tidbit of information and it blossoms."

Kearney and others implored citizens to try to recall instances of an Accord driver behaving strangely or urgently needing a repair to the side of their car. Even rumors or overheard conversations could be valuable to investigators, they said.

“There’s an expression that loose lips sink ships. If you happen to overhear anyone after they've had a couple of drinks talking about this hit and run accident, please go immediately and talk to the police about it,” said Jane Weissman, a friend of the King family.

Working on the case without a solution has been difficult, Kearney said, “It’s frustrating like you wouldn’t believe. It's like chopping on a tree and no chips are flying. But you keep swinging. … It'll be solved some way, some how.”

SOLOMON’S MOTHER Mieko King is a Japanese immigrant who raised Solomon alone after the death of her husband 13 years ago. He was her only child. Friends described Solomon as quiet and extremely bright. He was an artist interested in drawing, animation and computers, and a loyal friend, they said.

“He was all my dream and hope. I'm searching [for] the answer, why this happened to him, and I don’t have it,” King said at the gathering. She reflected on the summer season, with, Solomon’s Wootton classmates out of school.

“They need to move on, but we have to — adults — we have to show kids, this is not the way to do it. … I pray all drivers to drive with extra caution,” she said.

A group called Friends and Neighbors of Solomon King has raised $26,000 in reward money for information leading to the driver’s arrest. They have held regular meetings to discuss ways to keep the investigation in the public eye and distribute flyers containing the vehicle description and reward offer.

They are planning a high school band concert on the first anniversary of Solomon’s death Nov. 12, in conjunction with Winston Churchill High School. Sarkis Nazarian Jr., a junior at Churchill, died in an unrelated, single-car accident 4.6 miles away on Travilah road the same night Solomon was killed. Details about the concert have not been finalized, but the funds raised will go towards scholarship funds in the students’ memory.

But for Mieko King and friends of Solomon King, the highest priority is still bringing closure to the case.

“Being a single parent with a child as old as Mieko's — it's very scary. It's too close to home,” Weissman said.

“It is hard. We always get discouraged. We think, ‘Oh this is the one.’ And I turn out to be wrong,” King said. “As long as I'm here, I'll never quit looking for the driver.”