Teen is given house arrest in auto deaths

April 06, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

An article in the same section contained incorrect information about a plea agreement for a Mount Airy youth involved in a car crash that killed three people. The charges prosecutors dropped were less serious than the counts on which he was convicted.

The Sun regrets the errors.

In a voice punctuated by quiet sobs, Donny Eugene Simms stood before a Carroll Circuit judge yesterday and apologized for killing his sister and two of his best friends in a car accident last June.

"I never meant to hurt anybody," the 17-year-old South Carroll High School student said after he pleaded guilty to three counts of automobile manslaughter. "I'm very sorry. I'm sorry."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

As part of the defendant's plea bargain with prosecutors, Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold imposed a nine-year prison sentence, but suspended all but one year that young Simms will serve under house arrest.

As part of his house arrest, he will be able to leave his Mount Airy home only to go to school, church and work.

The judge also ordered the Simms youth to perform 500 hours of community service, barred him from driving a car for three years and placed him on five years of supervised probation.

Prosecutors dropped more serious charges of homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and felony theft, along with misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, speeding and driving while intoxicated. If he had been tried and convicted, he could have been sentenced to more than 45 years in prison.

"What is unique in this case is the groundswell of community support you have received," Judge Arnold told the defendant. "You have many years ahead of you to show the people of the community and of this state that the support and trust they have shown in you is not misplaced."

It was Judge Arnold who proposed the plea agreement in a February discussion with prosecutors and defense attorney William T. Wood at a time when the two sides were negotiating a possible bargain.

"The court has had severe misgivings and self doubt as to this sentence," Judge Arnold said in court. "I don't know today if the right thing has been done."

However, the agreement was praised by both the prosecution and the defense yesterday.

"This is a very serious matter," said Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman. "If he strays from the path, he's got eight years hanging over his head."

Mr. Wood, who tried last summer to keep the case in juvenile court, said the deal achieved his client's primary objective. "The fact that he will serve no jail time was the key to this whole bargain," the lawyer said. "He's a nice kid who made a tragic error in judgment."

Eight teen-agers were in a stolen car when it crashed June 6 near a bridge on Liberty Road near the Liberty Reservoir. Six were thrown onto the road as the car went out of control and flipped onto its roof.

Best friends Dink Diggs of Mount Airy and Christopher Norris of Marriottsville, and Donny Simms' sister, Donna, all 15, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Some of the teen-agers, including Donny Simms, had been drinking malt liquor, which had been purchased by an adult, according to a statement of facts read by Deputy State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch.

Donny Simms was behind the wheel only because he and the other teen-agers in the car decided that he was the least drunk of the group, his lawyer said yesterday.

The youth drove the car at speeds up to 110 mph before it crashed, Mr. Ulsch said.

Young Simms' minister, his juvenile probation agent and an acquaintance from Mount Airy testified on his behalf yesterday during the 90-minute hearing. The courtroom was packed with friends and relatives.

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