Horrible moment haunts victim's father Son, 10, was killed by drunken driver

October 08, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

In Brad Merrell's mind, the chilling vision of his son's death is on instant replay forever.

One moment, he's leaving a neighbor's house with his 10-year-old son Benjamin and daughter Kristal, 8. The next, a car careens out of the darkness, knocking Benjamin's bike one way and flinging the boy into the air.

"I turned around and Ben was still in the air, he hadn't come TC down yet," the father says. "I see it every night in my nightmare, I see it like it happened five minutes ago."

Mr. Merrell and others who have lost loved ones to drunken drivers gathered yesterday outside the Baltimore County courthouse to protest what they say are lenient sentences for intoxicated motorists who kill or maim with their cars.

The man accused of automobile manslaughter in connection with Benjamin's death last May, Ronald Lee Adams, 38, pleaded guilty to the charge yesterday but has not been sentenced.

John Cox, who has been prosecuting drunken driving cases for Baltimore County for four years, said yesterday that judges have a difficult task in sentencing violators convicted of automobile manslaughter cases.

"They are hardly typical criminals," Mr. Cox said. "They usually have jobs, families and lead otherwise good lives and a judge must take this into consideration. Both sides have to be looked at and that's what creates the great difficulty here. . . . These people are victims and are making legitimate demands."

Edward A. DeWaters, chief judge of the third judicial circuit which encompasses Baltimore and Harford counties, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Yesterday's brief demonstration was more than a continuing effort to keep the issue before the public, organizers said. It was an emotional call to arms for the families of victims, a public group therapy session conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

"It has scared me to death and does to this day," said Mr. Merrell, who does home improvement work in the northwest Baltimore County community of Arcadia.

"Ben's death was caused by a guy who was reckless and irresponsible, by a man who has yet to look at us in the eye and say he's sorry for what he did.

"This has stopped all enjoyments in my life," he said. "It has left me with nightmares and heartache. . . . I don't have no heart for nobody no more."

His wife Robin offers more: "Every night Brad screams in his sleep . . . he flinches every time a car comes around him. And forget about letting our daughter go outside without supervision."

On the other hand, Kim Boyce holds no bitterness for her tragedy.

In July 1992, while she was working in Fells Point, a drunk driver struck her with his car and pinned her lower body between two automobiles. Her pelvis was crushed and her right leg was amputated above the knee.

She attended the demonstration to say that while revenge might be a normal reaction for the families of drunken driving victims, education in the home and in schools will help reduce drunken driving deaths.

"I think you have to shock children about what can happen when someone fails to be responsible for what they do," she said.

"I'm not bitter toward the man who did this to me, but I don't expect others in my situation to hold the same view. . . . Revenge is a normal human feeling."

Warren Chance knows that feeling. He was at the demonstration to describe how his 16-year-old daughter, Angela, was struck and killed last December in Dundalk by a woman who was driving drunk. The driver, Phyllis G. Keith, 40, was convicted of homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and given a suspended sentence and 18 months of home detention.

"It turned my life around," said Mr. Chance, a divorced father of three adult sons. "I keep on hearing the reason drunk drivers don't get the mandatory jail sentences [five years in Ms. Keith's case] is because the prisons are full. Well, that doesn't satisfy me."

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