Teen gets 10 years in auto death

March 03, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

The West Baltimore teen-ager told the judge he was an "A" student, college-bound with dreams of becoming a physical therapist. He also said he was sorry for speeding down Wilkens Avenue in a stolen car and running down and killing the "Avon Lady."

The judge wasn't buying any of it. She wanted to know:

Did the defense lawyer check 18-year-old Vincent P. Brooks' claim that he had a 3.7-grade-point average at Walbrook High School? Who would hire a physical therapist with an attempted rape conviction on his record? Finally, if Brooks felt so badly about running down Gladys Hoffman, why did he bail out of the car and flee?

In the end, Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe told Brooks, "You sound like a terrible specimen of humanity to me." She then sentenced him to 10 years in prison, with all but five years suspended, in the Oct. 29 death of Ms. Hoffman.

The prison time was part of a deal accepted by Brooks yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court. For that sentence, he pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter and unauthorized use of a vehicle.

The 1991 Honda that Brooks drove when he killed Ms. Hoffman had been reported stolen earlier that day in Montgomery County, but the teen-ager said it had been "given" to him and denied knowing it had been stolen.

Assistant public defender Larry Rogers said he couldn't confirm Brooks' grade-point average, but said Brooks was a varsity football player at Walbrook. In fact, he'd played in a game earlier on the day Ms. Hoffman was killed.

The 61-year-old victim had been a familiar sight on the streets of Southwest Baltimore, where she worked six days a week selling cosmetics. Ms. Hoffman walked to the homes of her customers, carrying lotions and perfumes, her order forms in her pockets. She never married.

When she died, her nephew and neighbors talked lovingly of her, recalling how she seemed incapable of passing anyone without exchanging friendly words.

She was killed in a crosswalk at the intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Smallwood Street, less than a block from her home.

The car that struck her was speeding about 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, prosecutor Gerard Volatile said. The force of the collision knocked her more than 180 feet and severed one of her legs. She was dead at the scene.

After the car crossed a median strip and struck two vehicles, Brooks fled, but was arrested in a house about six blocks away. A 17-year-old passenger in the car was charged as a juvenile with unauthorized use of a vehicle.

When Ms. Hoffman's killer was brought to court yesterday, the spectators' gallery was empty. Mr. Volatile, the prosecutor, wondered if snowy weather had kept her friends and family away.

"If the victim's family was here, I would like to apologize to them," Brooks told the court.

Judge Bothe said, "It might make you feel better. It certainly wouldn't make them feel any differently. Why'd you do it?"

The teen-ager said, "It was an accident. It wasn't meant to happen."

That's when Judge Bothe noted that he had run away from the accident. Earlier, the prosecutor said Brooks told his passenger, "Let's get out of here. Let's go. Come on, or you'll be charged with this."

During the hearing, Brooks was told he may face a violation-of-probation charge that could land him five more years -- the amount of time suspended when he pleaded guilty in 1991 to attempting to rob and rape an 85-year-old woman.

Brooks, of the 1600 block of N. Fulton Ave., was tried and convicted as an adult in that case, even though he was only 14 at the time of the offense.

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