Staged DWI case aims to edify teens Event is part of youth conference BALTIMORE COUNTY

April 16, 1993|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,Contributing Writer

Peter Johnson has prosecuted hundreds of drunken-driving cases. Today, however, the scenario will be a bit different.

Though the judge and defense attorney will be real, the rest of the case -- involving a teen-ager accused of driving while intoxicated -- will be fictional.

"I usually get to meet the victims and officers ahead of time," said Mr. Johnson, a prosecutor in the Baltimore County state's attorney's office. "There's not much you can do to prepare for a fictitious case."

The case will be part of the 10th annual Youth Conference on Drinking, Drugs and Driving. Organizers expect more than 350 students, parents and teachers at the conference to learn the sights, sounds and realities of a drunken driving accident and the subsequent criminal trial. The conference, which will be held at Martin's West, kicks off the county's Project Prom Night Campaign.

The day's main event will be a staged accident and trial. However, student actors, county police officers and fire officials will act as though the events are real.

Michael S. Gimbel, Baltimore County's substance abuse director, said he hopes the students will "begin to understand that it's not just as simple as having an accident and mom and dad bail you out. It's a very complicated, emotional, dramatic issue."

County police Officer Charles Beeler, who will conduct one of the workshops, said DWI arrests among teens have decreased significantly locally and nationwide. He credits the drop -- from 231 arrests among Baltimore County residents age 16 to 20 in 1989 to 173 in 1991 -- to educational programs such as this week's conference.

"It's not as fashionable or accepted as it was in years past," said Officer Beeler, who will narrate the police officer's role during the mock accident. "A lot of students are committed to not drinking and driving."

Mr. Gimbel said today's scenario will go something like this:

Teens, parents and teachers sit inside the conference room, calmly listening to comments by Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and school Superintendent Stuart Berger. Suddenly, the audience is told of a terrible accident in the parking lot.

The group runs outside to find the wreckage of two cars. Police and firefighters, sirens blaring, arrive. The Maryland State Police MedEvac rescue helicopter lands and paramedics treat the injured. In another corner, police conduct sobriety tests -- and make arrests.

"It will be a bit like a three-ring circus," Mr. Gimbel said.

Workshops will focus on the accident's aftermath, including what happens during the arrest and the emotional turmoil caused by a death.

During the afternoon, a teen, arrested and charged with DWI, will go to trial. Judge Barbara Kerr Howe of the Baltimore County Circuit Court will preside. Mr. Johnson will be the prosecutor and Thomas Morrow, a Towson attorney, will represent the defendant. After the facts are presented, student "juries" will deliberate and, if they vote for conviction, pronounce sentence on their peer -- a "good kid" just like them.

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