Nightmare of drunken driving devastates 2 families

June 14, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson

For Debra Ann Glaser, June 30, 1989, was a nightmare revisited.

She was shaken to learn that within hours of leaving her house that day, her estranged husband, John Charles Glaser, had gotten drunk and killed a 30-year-old North Point man while driving the wrong way on the Baltimore Beltway.

Six years earlier, a drunken John Glaser had driven off Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and into a tree, killing his best friend. It was then that he plunged head-first into the bottle, said Mrs. Glaser, 37, of Glen Burnie.

"It's bad enough to go through it once. You don't expect to have to do it twice," said Mrs. Glaser, whose 18 years as a barmaid left her a teetotaler. "Alcohol turns beautiful lives to mush."

But John Glaser's story is more than that of families ruined.

The family of the man killed in the Beltway crash, Everett Jones, had their wounds reopened this week as controversy erupted over an appeals court ruling that Mr. Glaser must be freed because he had paid a $35 traffic ticket in the case, making his auto manslaughter conviction an instance of double jeopardy.

Norman Jones, 26, of Dundalk, one of Everett Jones'five brothers and sisters, said yesterday that he will begin circulating a petition today asking that Mr. Glaser never be allowed to drive again "in Maryland or anywhere in the United States."

His brother worked at the SCM Corp., Norman Jones said, "and his co-workers are right behind us all the way on this. We're devastated still, and appalled at the decision. You can't put a price on a person's life. He [Mr. Glaser] paid a $35 fine."

Mr. Glaser, a 37-year-old, college-educated plumber from Stevensville, registered a .24 blood-alcohol level the night he killed Everett Jones -- more than twice the .10 level for a legal finding of intoxication in Maryland.

Amid intense public debate over whether the law has overridden justice, Mrs. Glaser maintains that there isstill hope for her former husband.

"John is not all bad. For the first time in years, I can see a change in him, in his attitude, his way of speaking, the way he presents himself. He is thinking logically and he's genuinely sorry," she said.

"This time he really admits he was wrong," Mrs. Glaser said. "Maybe for John's sanity he had to deny his alcoholism."

Mr. Glaser, who has been jailed for the last 13 months, is now at the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Quantico, Wicomico County, awaiting his release in the wake of the appeals court decision. Mrs. Glaser said she last visited him a month ago.

Since then, the Court of Special Appeals has reversed his manslaughter conviction, based on a Supreme Court ruling in a New York case. The Constitution prohibits double jeopardy -- being tried twice for the same crime.

Mr. Glaser admitted his guilt in paying the $35 fine for the wrong-way charge, the appeals court said. Therefore, the three-judge panel said, prosecutors could not use the same conduct as the basis for seeking a manslaughter conviction.

Assistant Attorney General Valerie Smith said yesterday that the state is considering whether to ask the Court of Special Appeals to reconsider its ruling or to seek a review by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

John Cox, who prosecuted Mr. Glaser in Baltimore County Circuit Court, said the Court of Special Appeals ruled correctly under the circumstances, but he feels the Supreme Court decision on which the ruling was based is incorrect.

The reversal was frustrating, Mr. Cox said, "but Glaser didn't beat the system; the system beat itself."

The New York case on which the Court of Special Appeals based its decision was pending before the Supreme Court at the time of the Glaser case, Mr. Cox said. "We knew it was there, but we hoped it would come down our way," he said.

The high court ruled on the case a few weeks after Mr. Glaser was sentenced, the double-jeopardy argument having already been rejected at his trial. This formed the basis for Public Defender Mark Colvin's appeal, which in turn led to Mr. Glaser's conviction being overturnedMay 29.

Published reports of the court ruling led to an angry public's perception that Mr. Glaser was getting off lightly on a technicality after being responsible for two deaths.

On the advice of Mr. Colvin, who is handling the appeal, Mr. Glaser refused an interview request yesterday because of possible additional legal action.

Mr. Colvin also declined to comment on the case but asked, "What's wrong with the Court of Special Appeals applying the law set down by the Supreme Court?"

To prevent recurrence, Mr. Cox said, police operating in the county have been told not to issue any traffic tickets that can be paid off in accident cases where there is a fatality or such serious injuries that death is likely.

Gill Cochran, the Annapolis lawyer who represented Mr. Glaser in Circuit Court, described his client as "a very sincere man."

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