Jan Holland said she thought the badly injured man she saw in the street must have been coming home from work like everyone else before the car hit him.
She wondered who he was, whether he had kids. His wife, she imagined, was probably worried, calling and texting.
Holland didn’t know Oren Dorell, a beloved father, husband and fearless USA TODAY foreign affairs reporter before he was hit on the night of June 8 in northeast Washington, D.C. She only knew a spontaneous effort by strangers to desperately save his life was so inspiring, it gave her hope that he would be OK. It’s why his death, at 53, leaving behind a wife and two young boys, is all the more painful.
Seconds after Holland stepped off a trolley on H Street — a stretch of neighborhood bars, local restaurants and stores strangely quiet for a Friday night — the chaos started.
Just blocks from his home, Dorell was rear-ended while riding a green 2018 Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle about 8:30 p.m. near the 12th Street intersection.
Dozens of people funneled out of restaurants and rushed from street corners and sidewalks — immediately stopping their lives — to try to save Dorell’s. People of all types — old, young, black, white. A man in a dress shirt clearly coming from work dialed 911 while running down the sidewalk; a young preppy guy arrived with his skateboard.
It was, for a brief moment, amazing, Holland explained. Roughly two dozen people from different backgrounds and of varying status, jumping in to action to rescue a stranger who was pinned beneath the car that had struck him. Each seamlessly took on different roles, dividing the labor to save a life.
“The people on the street saw what was going on and took it upon themselves,” she said. “No one was ordering, they just all realized there was a man in danger and they united to try to make this thing right.”
After the impact, the car continued down H Street at a 10-to-15-mph clip. The group of people chased the car down on foot.
When the 2006 Toyota Camry stopped at 13th and H streets, Holland recalled, the crowd pounded on the car’s windows, eventually getting the dazed driver to come out. A group held the man on the side of the street while the rest went to work.
Several men surrounded the car and, with little hesitation, lifted it off Dorell, who was still breathing, Holland said. Court documents state 20 people, including police officers, lifted the car.
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On the sidewalk, several prayed aloud for Dorell’s life to be spared. Holland did the same, quietly, to herself.
Several more people with medical training provided first aid, trying to keep Dorell alert until police and medical care arrived.
“They really really tried,” Holland said. “They stayed with him.”
D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department arrived and cleared the crowd. Many of those who tried to save Dorell’s life were interviewed by officers before dispersing. Holland didn’t get their names and MPD doesn’t provide them as a matter of policy.
Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck confirmed citizens and officers worked to free Dorell.
“This is a tragic incident and serves as a reminder as to why driving under the influence of any substance is a danger to the community,” he said in a statement. “The Metropolitan Police Department takes matters such as this seriously and will continue to work diligently to help prevent them from happening. We extend our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Dorell.”
Daryl Grant Alexander, 47, faces charges of second-degree murder, leaving after colliding and driving under the influence. Court documents show he was so incoherent and unresponsive officers couldn’t interview him at the scene or conduct a field sobriety test.
Alexander later told police he had no recollection of driving to H Street or hitting a person, court records show. He recounted that earlier in the night he was drinking alcohol and smoking PCP in his car. The next thing he remembered was being handcuffed. Police found a Long Island iced tea, an alcoholic drink,next to the driver’s seat and noted the car smelled of PCP.
He is currently in a D.C. jail awaiting a preliminary hearing on July 19. Alexander’s attorney did not return a request for comment.
Alexander had twice been arrested in Washington, D.C., on suspicion of driving under the influence. In 2009, police pulled over a slow-moving and mumbling Alexander in southeast D.C., where officers smelled PCP coming from his car. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, plus a fine and two years of probation. Then in 2016, officers found him “passed out” in a Toyota Camry with an open beer and empty Long Island iced tea. Police said it was “glaringly obvious” he was “very intoxicated.” In September 2016, he pleaded guilty to DUI, open container of alcohol in a vehicle and operating after suspension. He was sentenced 180 days in jail on the DUI charge, all but 15 days were suspended. He was fined, placed on probation and ordered not to drive until further order of the court. It was not immediately clear why he was ordered to serve 15 days.
Later that night, after Holland had left the scene where Dorell lay injured, she thought about him. “Is that man going to be OK?” she repeated to herself while out with friends.
He wouldn’t. Dorell, born to a white mother and black father, whose institutional civil rights battles informed his son’s thinking, died shortly after midnight on June 9 at MedStar Hospital Center.
His family and his colleagues were devastated. As was Holland.
“Right now, we’re in this divisive time where you’re pitting people of all demographics against each other,” she said. “In this moment of tragedy, none of that matters. All that matters is we’re all trying to do the right thing.”
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