Every month, Isiah Pugh met with other local Boy Scout leaders in Maryland for their “Key Three,” a regular session to talk about how the 3,000 scouts in their district were doing and what volunteers could do to improve the boys’ experience.
It was one of dozens of meetings and events Pugh looked forward to as a Boy Scout member-turned-volunteer overseeing the program in Prince George’s and Charles counties.
The Oct. 24 lunch meeting was almost like any other, until chaos struck.
Just as Pugh finished talking about how proud he was of the commissioners in his district, a car launched through Babes Boys Tavern in Upper Marlboro with an explosive crash. Cinder blocks flew through the air, smoke filled the room and Pugh, along with several others, were knocked out of their seats.
“I ordered the turkey sandwich special, and the next thing you know, the wall came down, the car came through, the ceiling dropped and Isiah fell in my lap,” said C. Philip Nichols Jr., a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court for Prince George’s County and chairman of the Boy Scout district Pugh managed.
Pugh, 73, died Tuesday, one week after suffering critical injuries in the unfathomable wreck.
As police continue to investigate the cause of the crash and workers rebuild the beloved neighborhood watering hole, Pugh’s friends and family mourn the man they remember as a loving father and dedicated Scouter. They say he was helpful, friendly, courteous and kind, radiating all the good virtues prescribed in Boy Scout Law.
“He gave us love as much as sharing love with other people,” said Pugh’s son, Robert Pugh. “He was always involved in the community and always preached that you have to give back.”
Pugh was one of six people taken to a hospital after the wreck.
On the day of the crash, about 30 people were in the restaurant popular with firefighters, police, lawyers and others whose work brings them to the nearby Prince George’s County Courthouse.
The driver of a Toyota was heading south on Old Crain Highway when she lost control of her car while making a left turn onto Marlboro Pike and crashed into the restaurant around 1:10 p.m., according to Prince George’s County police.
The impact sounded like a bomb exploded and launched brick and mortar through the air. The force of the crash was so violent that one of the restaurant’s owners sitting at the end of the bar was blown off a stool and into the bathroom. Customers were knocked unconscious, were pinned by the car or trapped beneath rubble.
“It looked like something out of ‘Saving Private Ryan,’” said Nichols, who was sitting at a table inches from where the car hurtled through the restaurant. The retired judge escaped uninjured, leaving the scene with a torn shirt spattered in blood.
Police detectives and firefighters who were diners quickly sprung into action, treating the injured and getting people out of the restaurant as fast as they could, said Aileen Noel, who was working behind the bar that day. One retired firefighter who is a regular didn’t notice glass that lodged in his body and sent blood down his neck because he was so busy rendering aid, Noel said.
“I thought a bomb went off,” said Noel, whose ribs and back were deeply bruised. “I got hit with a cinder block and everything just came at me.”
The owner of the restaurant has created an online fundraising page to help employees who were injured or are not earning a paycheck as the building undergoes repairs.
The car’s driver, Vernelle Robinson, declined to speak to The Washington Post when reached by phone Wednesday. Immediately after the crash, Robinson told local television news outlets she had panicked when her car’s brakes failed.
No charges have been filed in the crash as police continue to investigate.
Gathered at home in Waldorf this week, Pugh’s loved ones shared fond memories of him. He was the grandfather who taught his grandkids to swim, the father who built elaborate doll houses for his daughters and the friendly face that almost got his entire family upgraded to first class on a plane because the flight attendants thought he was so sweet.
“He was such a caring and loving man of God,” said his daughter Tiffany Pugh. “His family was his center, and he just had so much charisma.”
Pugh’s children, who also include daughter Monique Hill and sons Isiah Pugh III and Christopher Pugh, said they were still trying to come to grips with how their father was taken from them.
But they said they’re not surprised that one of the last things he was talking about before he was injured was the Boy Scouts.
As a boy, Pugh was one of the first African American children to integrate the Fort Monroe troop in Virginia, his family said. He made his sons join the scouts and took his family on annual adventures through the Shenandoah. After Pugh retired as a manager for the U.S. Postal Service, he dedicated his time to boosting the Boy Scouts.
“That was his second job,” Tiffany Pugh said. “He loved it and the nurturing part of it. That is who he was. The Boy Scouts were everything to my dad, and they believe my dad was everything to them.”