Saying he was sending a warning to drunken drivers, a Baltimore County judge sentenced a Reisterstown woman yesterday to five years in prison for killing a 3-year-old boy when she lost control of her car and ran into his backyard.
Circuit Judge Leonard S. Jacobsen imposed the sentence on Amy R. Bolte, 21, after she pleaded guilty to auto manslaughter in the death of Ryan Garth Davis-Shanahan, also of Reisterstown.
"We have to send a message to the people of this county, of all ages, that this madness has got to stop," the judge told more than 50 onlookers who crowded into the court gallery for the proceeding.
Among the spectators were members of Ryan's family, who had been having a picnic outside their Timber Grove Road home on July 8 when Ms. Bolt failed to negotiate a turn, drove into the backyard and hit the boy.
"I certainly hope this young lady can get some help for herself so that this doesn't happen again," said Ryan's cousin, Debbie Yohn, a shock trauma nurse. "I want to say to Amy that I am sorry she had to be the one to be the example, because drunk driving has been going on a long time."
Standing before the judge, Ms. Bolte said in a low, trembling voice that she was sorry for causing the accident.
In the wake of her guilty plea, Judge Jacobsen dismissed other charges against Ms. Bolte, including driving while intoxicated. While the sentence was half the 10 years prosecutors requested, the judge said he thought it was a "substantial" punishment.
"This is a tragic case, but it was an avoidable tragedy," Judge Jacobsen said. "She knew she was likely to kill herself or someone else by the use or abuse of controlled or uncontrolled dangerous substances."
Defense attorney Harold I. Glaser had argued for a lesser sentence, presenting testimony from drug counselors that Ms. Bolte had long been a "victim" of depression, alcohol and drug addiction.
As evidence of her troubled youth, he presented court records showing that the young woman had been a runaway and was kicked out of school for selling marijuana to an undercover police officer.
The records also showed that she was twice convicted as an adult for possession of marijuana and at the time of the accident was on 18 months' probation.
Prosecutor John Cox said Ms. Bolte had been a "loaded bomb" on July 8 when, after drinking bourbon, she got behind the wheel of a car. She was accompanied by a friend, Jennifer Jones, who died in another alcohol-related accident Sunday.
Ms. Bolte's blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was .17, while the legal limit determining intoxication is .10, the prosecutor said.
In urging the judge to render a stiff sentence, Mr. Cox said the fatal accident that resulted was a "crime that struck a chord in the hearts of parents."
"It scares me to think that a child isn't safe in his own backyard," he said.