Guilty plea in road death that helped change law

June 29, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

The man whose pickup rammed a minivan east of Annapolis last October, fatally injuring Anne Kristen Davis and stirring her schoolmates to demand a change in the state's drunken-driving laws, pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Thomas Francis George, 62, of the 700 block of Red Cedar Road in Annapolis could be sentenced to as much as one year in jail and fined $1,000. Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. scheduled sentencing for Sept. 12.

Mr. George entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant concedes that under evidence gathered by the state, he might be found guilty.

"He's conceding we had the evidence to convict him. He acknowledged that he was drinking, had an accident and killed someone," Assistant State's Attorney Thomas J. Pryal said in an interview after the plea was entered.

Mr. George's lawyer, Joel Katz, said his client would have offered testimony that was contradictory to the state's case.

As a part of the agreement, the state dropped charges of auto manslaughter, driving under the influence, failure to stop at a stop sign and negligent driving.

The collision occurred Oct. 29 about 8:30 p.m. at Cape St. Claire Road and Busch's Frontage Road.

Twelve-year-old Anne Davis, one of three children sitting in the back of her mother's minivan, was flown by MedEvac helicopter to the children's intensive-care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She died the next day.

Mr. George told police officers and hospital personnel immediately after the crash that he had had "a few beers" at the Elks Club the day of the accident, Mr. Pryal told the court.

Precisely how much alcohol Mr. George had consumed is unknown because he refused to take a blood-alcohol test.

To be a valid measurement of blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash, the test must be given within two hours.

With sophisticated trauma-care systems, a fatally injured person often stays alive for hours or days.

For years, Maryland law made the blood-alcohol test mandatory only in fatal crashes in which death occurred immediately.

It was the testing loophole that Anne's schoolmates at the Magothy River Middle School and her mother, Susan A. Edkins, managed to get closed during the last General Assembly session.

Legislators were particularly impressed with the arguments of the young people.

"It seems as if when you refuse to do everything a police officer tells you to do, you stand a better chance of not being punished or being punished to a lesser degree," Erin Scheide, 12, told them.

The legislature subsequently made the test mandatory in crashes resulting in "life-threatening injuries."

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the Maryland State's Attorneys Association and others had been working to tighten the law for eight years without success.

The new law will go into effect Oct. 1.

Yesterday, Mrs. Edkins and her husband, Alan, said they are glad the trial is behind them. They had resisted a plea bargain but finally concluded that it was the best alternative.

In his office after the plea was entered, Mr. Pryal told Mr. and Mrs. Edkins that this case was like many other drunken-driving cases and yet different.

"Usually, not a whole lot of good comes out of them," he said. "A young girl died and, no matter what happened to Mr. George, that wouldn't change."

"In this case, though, with the law they were able to push through, something good did happen."

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