Man guilty in crash goes free Victim's family pleads for leniency

April 27, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Even though Dennis Keith Williams killed her son in an automobile accident last year, Carole Connelly didn't want to see him behind bars.

"My family is the most important part of my life, and I have no desire to increase [the Williams family's] suffering," Mrs. Connelly wrote in a letter read by Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. yesterday after Williams pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter. "I do not want Dennis Williams to go to jail."

Williams, a 19-year-old sophomore at Western Maryland College, not going to jail for the Sept. 28 death of Michael Patrick Connelly.

Instead, as the victim's parents, siblings and widow requested in letters to Judge Burns, Williams will spend at least the next three years talking to groups of Carroll County students about the dangers of reckless driving.

"There's no doubt that you have great remorse," Judge Burns said to Williams after handing down a suspended three-year jail sentence and five years of probation. "You can be a real asset to youths in this county by explaining to them the dangers of bad driving."

The defendant searched for the right words through a torrent of tears as he tried to explain his pain to the judge.

"Some nights, I still wake up, wishing that it would have been me," he said. "I'm very sorry for what happened."

Members of Mr. Connelly's family -- including his two young children -- filled three rows of the gallery and sobbed as Williams spoke. The defendant's parents, seated behind him, were crying, and prosecutors Edward M. Ulsch and Kathi Hill held back tears.

"This is a loving family," Mr. Ulsch told Judge Burns. "This love, curiously, even extended to Dennis."

Williams was speeding down Route 97 from Gettysburg toward Western Maryland College on the morning of Sept. 28 when, traveling at almost 90 miles an hour, his car failed to negotiate a curve near Humbert Schoolhouse Road, prosecutors said yesterday.

Williams' Oldsmobile struck the Blue Toyota Corolla driven by Mr. Connelly.

The impact killed Mr. Connelly, 24, instantly and sent Williams to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for nearly a month. Both cars were destroyed.

Williams, who played on Western Maryland College's football and baseball teams, lost part of his leg in the accident.

He wasn't told of Mr. Connelly's death until he was released from Shock Trauma.

As he stood talking to the judge before sentencing, Williams described being told that Mr. Connelly was dead.

"I didn't find out until I got home from the hospital. I went into my room and sobbed all day."

Don Benter, Williams' lawyer, said his client was a good kid who was rushing back to school after visiting his father, who was recuperating in a Philadelphia hospital from bypass surgery.

Mr. Benter said neither drugs nor alcohol were involved in the fatal crash.

"If something like this could happen to Dennis Williams, it could happen to anybody," the lawyer said. "He will carry it until the day he dies, knowing that his gross negligence caused someone to lose his life."

After the judge imposed his sentence -- Williams also was fined $2,000 -- he asked everyone who was not part of the victim's family to leave so that they could have time to talk to Williams.

The defendant and family members were in the closed courtroom for more than a half-hour.

Williams' sentence is in contrast to an automobile manslaughter sentence Judge Burns handed down a week earlier.

In that case, a 48-year-old Montgomery County man was driving south on Route 97 south of Westminster when he lost control of his car and struck a guardrail on a bridge.

The crash killed his passenger instantly. Judge Burns sentenced the driver to the maximum 10 years in state prison.

"That was a really easy sentence to impose," the judge said, "because the defendant was using cocaine and marijuana. Today's sentence has been a very, very difficult sentence."

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