Man who paid fine for reckless driving skirts manslaughter charge

August 29, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

By paying a $45 fine for reckless driving, a Baltimore man has avoided an auto manslaughter charge in an accident in which a young woman was killed.

A Howard County Circuit Court judge dismissed yesterday the auto manslaughter charge against Garrick Wesley, 24, of the 600 block of Allendale Street. If he had been convicted on that charge, Mr. Wesley could have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Citing appellate court rulings, Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. ruled it would be double jeopardy to try Mr. Wesley for auto manslaughter because he paid a fine for reckless driving in the accident.

The reckless driving charge required proof that negligent driving endangered property or the life of another person, which is similar to the evidence needed to prove auto manslaughter, the judge noted.

Mr. Wesley's attorney, Alan L. Cohen, said he was convinced that he would win the point because "the law is the law. The issue of double jeopardy goes back to the times of the Magna Carta in England" in 1215.

Mr. Cohen said his client "has already got a pretty stiff punishment" for his role in the accident.

Mr. Wesley lost a leg and suffered a detached retina in the June 13, 1990, collision that caused the death of Julie Brown, 23, a passenger in his car. He spent 14 months in the Howard County jail, pending disposition of his case.

Howard County police said the accident occurred on U.S. 40 as Mr. Wesley drove a stolen 1987 Chevrolet Spectrum west at more than 80 mph in an effort to elude a Baltimore County police car.

The Spectrum struck another car, injuring the driver, then ran a red light at Center Drive and collided with a truck making a left turn. Ms. Brown, whose address was not known, was killed in the collision. Police said a .38-caliber handgun and ammunition were found in the Spectrum.

Mr. Wesley also was charged with possessing a concealed handgun, auto theft and traffic offenses.

However, Mr. Cohen said a plea agreement on those charges will cap Mr. Wesley's sentence at six years, with all but four years suspended and three years of probation after release.

The dismissal of the auto manslaughter charge has led county police to review charging practices in auto manslaughter cases.

Major Mark L. Paterni, commander of the police department's field operations bureau, said the department will "defer all charges until we complete an investigation and confer with the state's attorney on the most appropriate charges."

"We want to make sure we don't use any traffic citations to prevent this mechanism being used again for getting clients off," he said. "It is not serving justice, but the courts are following the Constitution of Maryland and we have to modify our procedures to do the best job possible."

He said he will review outstanding traffic fatality cases to determine if similar charging practices have occurred.

In a similar case in May, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals freed John Charles Glasser, 37, a man twice convicted of drunken driving, because in the most recent case he had paid a $35 traffic citation before criminal charges were filed.

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