Charles County police say a Nanjemoy man had a blood-alcohol content nearly five times the legal limit on May 9 when his speeding car crashed head-on into another car on Md. 6, killing himself and five other people, three of them children.
Investigators also said the man, Ernest Lee Knight, 27, had argued with his wife by telephone just minutes before the accident. Then, witnesses said, while he was driving toward home he swerved repeatedly into the path of oncoming traffic.
Charles County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Becker, a traffic homicide investigator, said he theorized that Knight may have meant to commit suicide.
Capt. Gary Draheim, also of the sheriff's department, said yesterday the state medical examiner reported that an autopsy revealed Knight had a blood-alcohol level of 0.33. A driver in Maryland is regarded as legally impaired with a blood alcohol level of 0.07, and intoxicated when it reaches 0.10.
"My professional experience tells me that a person with a blood-alcohol content of 0.33 should be near unconsciousness, severely impaired in his judgment, motor [muscle control] and thought processes," said Wayne Kempske, chief of criminal justice for the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.
But for people to function in some fashion despite such high readings is "not unheard of at all," he said. "It's not too rare to get a call from a judge who says, 'We've got a defendant here who's just blown a 0.25 or a 0.30 and he's standing here before the bench.' "
Usually such people have "hearty, robust" physiques and a history of heavy drinking, he said. The highest blood alcohol level he could recall involving a Maryland driver was a man who registered 0.40 in a breath test.
Deputy Becker said witnesses told him that "this certainly wasn't the first time he [Knight] was heavily intoxicated."
Knight was well-known to the Charles County sheriff's office, Becker said, and had a varied criminal history that included assaults.
He had never obtained a Maryland driver's license and his driving privileges in Virginia had been suspended. His 1978 Cadillac was unregistered and uninsured.
The reason for his license suspension in Virginia could not be learned.
A spokesman for the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles said state law prohibits the release of driver-record information without the permission of the driver.
Becker, a traffic homicide investigator, said Knight was driving his Cadillac west on Md. 6 near Welcome on May 9 about 6:15 p.m. when he crossed the center line moving at about 80 mph.
Knight's car first sideswiped an eastbound Pontiac driven by Rebecca Slaughter, 32, of LaPlata. The impact forced the Pontiac off the road and down an embankment, Becker said.
Slaughter and her daughter, Crystal, were later treated and released from Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton.
Next, Knight's Cadillac collided head-on with a Nissan driven by Tresa Mae Keys, 30, of Nanjemoy.
That impact crushed both cars and killed everyone in them, including Knight, Keys and her boyfriend, Glenn Carroll, 35; their children, Glynielle Carroll, 2, and Sharnelle T. Carroll, 7, and Glenn Carroll's nephew, James D. Carroll, 8.
Seconds after the fatal collision, an eastbound 1983 Honda driven by Susan Jackson, 22, of LaPlata, crashed into the rear of the wreckage of Keys' Nissan, Becker said.
Jackson was taken to the Southern Maryland Hospital Center, where she remains in satisfactory condition, undergoing treatment for undisclosed injuries.
Becker said that, because Knight was killed in the crash, there was no need to prove conclusively that he deliberately drove his car into the path of oncoming traffic.
But the weight of the evidence from his investigation points in that direction. And had Knight survived, "criminal charges certainly would have been filed," he said.
The charges would have included vehicular homicide, Becker said.
Becker's investigation revealed that at about 6 p.m. -- just 15 minutes before the crash -- Knight had called his wife from a shopping center in La Plata. Knight was employed by a La Plata lumber yard.
In that shopping center, Becker said, there is a liquor store "commonly known as a gathering spot, where drinking is done in vehicles in the parking lot, or around the other side of the building. Whether he was drinking there we can't confirm, but that would be my guess."
Becker said Knight's wife told him during the investigation that she and her husband had been arguing for some time.
"The argument continued by phone" during the call, and they argued for several minutes. "It was the last phone call he made," Becker said.
Knight apparently then drove his car west on Md. 6 out of La Plata, inthe direction of his home in rural Nanjemoy.
Two or three miles outside La Plata, two eastbound motorists were rounding a bend on Md. 6 when they suddenly saw a car headed straight for them.