Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. sentenced a Montgomery County man yesterday to 10 years in state prison for automobile manslaughter.
That was twice the amount of prison time prosecutors were seeking.
"This accident never should have happened," the judge said as he handed Wade Mendes, 48, of Wheaton, the maximum sentence for the crime. "I've handled a number of auto manslaughter cases in the past 13 or 14 years, and this case is as bad as any case that I've handled."
Mendes pleaded guilty Jan. 11 to automobile manslaughter and driving while intoxicated in the July 13 death of Russell Adam Jones, 29, the son of Dr. Richard Jones, the Carroll County medical examiner. Mendes was living at Russell Jones' farm at the time of the accident.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors had agreed to argue for a five-year sentence. They also dropped charges of homicide by motor vehicle, reckless driving, exceeding the posted speed and failure to drive right of center.
From the bench, Judge Burns said he wasn't bound by the agreement and would not abide by the prosecution's deal. He pointed out that the General Assembly four years ago doubled the maximum sentence for automobile manslaughter to 10 years.
"There had to be a reason for doubling those penalties," the judge said. "In this case, we had not only someone killed as a result of alcohol, but also as a result of ingestion of marijuana and cocaine."
According to police reports and court records, Mendes and Mr. Jones were on their way to a restaurant the night of the accident. When Mendes turned his 1970 Chevrolet Nova onto Route 97, he was heading south and driving his car at about 83 mph in a 55-mile zone.
As Mendes approached the Morgan Run Bridge, "he lost control of his car, struck the guardrail, continued to slide and began to roll over," court records say.
The accident sent Mendes to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where his blood alcohol level was found to be 0.18 percent, nearly twice the legal limit in Maryland. Traces of cocaine and marijuana were found in his blood, court records say.
During yesterday's hour-long sentencing hearing, a Washington sentencing consultant hired by Mendes' attorney recommended a sentence of home detention or work release and community service. On the stand, Brenda Ellis chronicled Mendes' progress in alcohol and drug treatment programs, and said such a sentence would ensure his continued success in kicking "the disease of alcoholism."
"The court absolutely rejects that request," Judge Burns told the defendant. As he continued, the judge commented on Mendes' criminal record, which includes 10 prior drug charges, 12 prior speeding tickets and five serious traffic infractions.
In a March 29 letter to Judge Burns, Mendes called the accident "the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me." He considered Russell Jones someone with whom he "developed a strong and lasting friendship."
In the letter, Mendes also apologized to Russell Jones' family.