Driver's fraudulent scheme is to die for Man played dead to avoid DWI charges

February 29, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Law enforcement officials wanted a Freeland man with nine lives dead or alive. Yesterday, they got him.

Peter C. Gentry, an international financial planner and a recovering alcoholic who lives on a farm on Slab Bridge Road, apparently faked his own death -- twice -- to get out of drunken driving charges. But the 38-year-old, who is very much alive, was brought to justice yesterday with an 18-month jail sentence.

His brush with "death" began in November 1991 in Warrenton, Va., where he was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The Faquier County Commonwealth Attorney's office received a Maryland death certificate the next February, saying Gentry died in a car accident Feb. 9 in Los Angeles. But a doctor's signature on the form was dated four days earlier -- Feb. 5.

In addition, "you can't die in the state of California and get a Maryland state death certificate," said Joseph F. Ambrose, who directs the Ambrose Funeral Home in Arbutus. His forged signature is also on the form. "When I first saw it, I have to admit I thought it was a joke," he said.

Deputy Commonwealth Attorney J. Gregory Ashwell apparently didn't: His office dropped the charges, convinced Gentry was dead.

He wasn't. He resurfaced in Baltimore County a few years later. Gentry was stopped May 26, 1995, for weaving near the intersection of Timonium and Deerco roads. He failed a roadside sobriety test. Two months later, on July 27, Officer Brantley W. Parks pulled him over when he crossed the center line on the Middletown off-ramp of Interstate 83. Again he failed a sobriety test. His license was suspended.

Soon after, Gentry showed up at the Baltimore County State's Attorney's office bearing a form titled, "Report of the Death of an American Citizen Abroad." That paper said he died Aug. 30 at a Harare, Zimbabwe, clinic of "Denzor Hemorrhagic Fever" and was cremated at a cemetery there.

The State's Attorney's office, which does not often receive out-of-country death certificates, accepted the form and dropped the drunken driving cases.

Fast forward to the early hours of Nov. 19, when Officer Parks -- the same officer who arrested him in July -- pulled Gentry over again for running a stop sign on Middletown Road and swerving.

The State's Attorney's office reopened the cases against Gentry.Yesterday in Owings Mills District Court, Deputy State's Attorney Howard Merker read a statement of facts and repeatedly told Judge Alexander Wright Jr. that Gentry's actions were "outrageous." While the overseas death certificate was a ,, valid State Department form, Mr. Merker said, "All the information is invalid. There is no such disease. There is no such doctor who supposedly handled him."

Gentry appeared humble and polite as his lawyer, James Beach III, called his behavior "the working of an alcoholic mind." Gentry told the court that he was getting treatment for his drinking -- which began when he was 13 -- because "I knew I was losing control and wanted to try to get a handle on what was going on."

Judge Wright found Gentry guilty of two counts of driving while intoxicated and one count of driving with a suspended license, which each carry a one-year sentence, as well as several lesser traffic violations that carry a combined $5,500 fine.

The judge imposed a three-year sentence with 18 months

suspended, waived the fines and added three years of probation. "We have a person who has basically defrauded the )) court in order to keep driving," he said. Gentry was handcuffed and taken to the Baltimore County Detention Center yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ashwell, the Virginia prosecutor, said yesterday that forging a death certificate -- a felony -- will be investigated and that the drunken driving charge may be, too.

And who knows if Gentry has used the scheme in other states. As Mr. Ashwell said, "He's a man with nine lives."

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