Driver from Columbia convicted in fatal I-95 accident Despite denials, judge rules motorist was intoxicated.

September 26, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

In the early morning hours of Jan. 26, three Massachusetts residents were on their way to Washington to visit a friend at American University when they became confused about their directions.

So Mark Barbour, 19, of Sudbury, Mass., pulled the Honda Civic over to the shoulder of Interstate 95 near Arbutus to look at a map. A moment later, a Samurai Suzuki slammed into the back of the Honda.

Hilary Suzanne Shedd, 18, the owner of the Honda, who was sleeping in the back seat, was crushed in the accident and died a week later.

Yesterday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, the driver of the Suzuki, Joseph Michael Helms, 27, of Columbia, testified that he didn't drink a drop of alcohol before the accident -- despite blood and urinalysis results to the contrary.

Judge J. William Hinkel waved aside Helms' denials and ruled Helms had a blood-alcohol level of "at least" 0.15 percent at the time of the 4 a.m. crash. "I do not believe the defendant," Hinkel said.

In Maryland, a blood alcohol level of 0.07 percent is considered driving under the influence; a level of 0.10 is driving while intoxicated.

The judge convicted Helms of automobile manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated, failure to drive in a single lane of traffic and driving in violation of a license restriction.

Helms faces more than 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 6.

Over objections from Helms' lawyer, Hinkel ordered Helms held in the Baltimore County Detention Center without bail.

Earlier, Helms had testified that he had left his mother's house in Columbia about 11 p.m. Jan. 25 to go "scrapping" at bars. Out of work, Helms said, he collected aluminum cans and other scrap )) metal for money.

But once he got to an Arbutus bar, Helms said, he ran into a girl he knows. He dropped the idea of collecting aluminum cans when the girl invited him to a party at her house.

At the party, Helms said, he had nothing to drink, but he did take something with him as he left -- a kitten.

"The last thing I remember, I was on 95, I had that tiny cat in my coat," Helms said. "He was just sitting right down in there. He wasn't scratching me or nothing. He was shaking a little bit, but that's all I remember."

Barbour, the driver of the Honda, and Saskia Grinberg, 17, of Dorchester, Mass., a front-seat passenger, had more vivid memories of the crash. "I was reaching for a map when we were struck," Barbour testified. "It felt like we were hit by lightning."

The Suzuki pushed the Honda more than 100 feet. Barbour and Grinberg climbed out the passenger-side window, over a guardrail.

They went back to assist Shedd, who Barbour said was not moving.

One side of her head appeared to be seriously injured, said Barbour.

"She was trying very hard to breathe," Barbour said. "She was making animalistic noises. Her teeth were clamped together and it was hard for her to breathe. I tried to unpry her teeth to help her breathe."

Shedd was flown by helicopter to the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. She died Feb. 1.

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