Claim settled in 5-death I-83 crash Driver's testimony denies drinking

November 01, 1990|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected trucker Donald Armstrong Lee from having to testify under oath about the April 1989 crash that killed five people.

But once Lee's criminal trial ended -- he was acquitted -- the Fifth Amendment no longer protected him and Lee was forced to testify under oath in the civil suits filed against him.

Called a deposition, the sworn testimony was taken by attorney George W. White Jr. at his Towson law offices last May 21, just over a month after Lee's criminal trial.

Until recently, the transcript of that sworn testimony was sealed by court order.

In the deposition, Lee, 43, of Northwood in northeast Baltimore, denies drinking on the morning of the crash and describes for the first time since the accident what happened that morning.

What follows are selected excerpts from that deposition:

White: As you were riding along tell me what happened?

Lee: I was in the right lane and after you pass Shawan Road, you have to switch over to the middle lane because it merges, it changes to two lanes at the top of the hill. After I passed Shawan Road, that is when I got dizzy and . . .

White: Do you remember getting dizzy or just don't remember anything?

Lee: I remember I got dizzy too fast that I thought I was pulling over on the side, because I know once there is another exit that comes out north of Shawan Road and I thought I was trying to pull over off the road. That is all I remember.

White: What is the next thing that you remember?

Lee: Next thing I remember is setting up there in the seat and looking around at all the accidents.

White: Did you ever put your brakes on from the time you felt dizzy until the time you woke up?

Lee: I do not remember.

In the transcript, Lee denies having had any alcohol the morning of the crash, but admits to drinking the day before.

He says he drank a pint of vodka and several beers the afternoon of April 17 with a friend named Charles, an old school chum he saw walking down the street and who joined him to drink on Lee's front porch.

But Lee said he didn't know Charles' last name, or where he lived, and added that he hadn't seen him since the accident.

Also, Lee strongly denied ever telling anyone he had experienced blackouts before the crash, despite testimony at his trial that he told a physician's assistant in 1988 that he had experienced blackouts.

Lee also admitted he had been stopped by police for driving while intoxicated in January 1988, was convicted and given probation before judgment. He said he didn't drink from November 1988 to April 1989.

The drinks he had the day before the crash were his first in five months, Lee said.

White: O.K. Did the fact that you hadn't had anything to drink for such a long time cause the alcohol to give you a stronger effect than you ordinarily would have?

Lee: I don't know.

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