Ellicott City man sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for drunken-driving fatality

January 30, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

An Ellicott City man was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Friday for a February 1993 drunken-driving accident in which one of his friends was killed.

William Bruce Bell, 31, of the 3500 block of Courthouse Drive, was given the sentence after the victim's family urged a Howard District Court judge to use the case to send a message that drunken driving will not be tolerated.

vTC "You cannot take a life and have it go unnoticed and unpunished in our society," said the victim's father, Maurice Johnson of Temple Hills. "We want the community to know it's wrong and it should not happen."

Bell, a groundskeeper for the Columbia Housing Corp., was found guilty of homicide by vehicle Nov. 14 in an accident in which 41-year-old Cyreno Maurice Johnson of Fort Washington was killed.

"I know what I was doing was wrong," Bell told Judge R. Russell Sadler. "To the Johnson family, I'd like to extend my deepest sympathies for your pain and the loss you had to endure."

Homicide by vehicle carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and up to $3,000 in fines. Additional charges of manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, speeding and several other traffic offenses were dropped by prosecutors.

Judge Sadler initially sentenced Bell to five years in prison but then suspended half of the sentence. He also ordered Bell to receive supervised probation and counseling upon his release.

Bell must serve the sentence at a state prison despite a request by his attorney to allow him to serve the term at the Howard County Detention Center so that he could receive treatment for his drinking.

Judge Sadler denied the request, noting that the county does not accept inmates who must serve more than 18 months in jail. The judge said he did not want to give Bell such a short sentence, even though it's his first offense.

The judge described the Bell case as one of the most difficult he has had to handle in his 13 years on the bench. He explained that he sees the need for Bell to receive rehabilitation, but he also believes it's necessary to send a stern message on drunken driving to the public.

"It's the toughest situation for a judge to be in," Judge Sadler said.

Before Judge Sadler gave the sentence, Assistant Public Defender Deborah Spector noted that Bell comes from a family with a history of alcohol abuse.

Since the accident, Bell has attended weekly counseling sessions through the county Health Department and daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, Ms. Spector said.

"Mr. Bell has been punished since the day this incident occurred," said Ms. Spector. "He realizes he has to go to jail for what he did."

Assistant State's Attorney Timothy Mitchell advised Judge Sadler to look at Bell's behavior before the accident instead of the actions he has taken since the crash.

The prosecutor argued that Bell chose to drink and then drive, with his friend as a passenger. He noted that Bell told police that he fell asleep twice before the accident while behind the steering wheel, but continued driving.

"He was the one person who could have avoided this accident," Mr. Mitchell said.

Bell was taking Mr. Johnson home after they attended a party and went to a Baltimore nightclub. He fell asleep at 5:50 a.m. Feb. 21 while driving on Route 29 at the Frederick Road overpass in Ellicott City.

The car, traveling at 71 mph, left the roadway, struck a guardrail, became airborne and rolled 19 feet down an embankment before it came to rest on its roof along Frederick Road.

Mr. Johnson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bell, who was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for a broken clavicle, had a blood-alcohol content of 0.17 percent, well above the state's legal limit of 0.1 percent, according to a test taken after the accident.

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