Saudi soldier charged with drunken driving fails to show for trial Relatives of woman, 46, injured in crash are irate

March 22, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

A Saudi Arabian soldier failed to appear in court yesterday for his trial on charges of drunken driving and other offenses stemming from a head-on crash five months ago that left an Edgewood woman with permanent brain damage.

"How does this happen, tell me, how can it be that this man is out walking around free and my wife is still in the hospital?" an irate James Champ said outside Harford County District Court in Bel Air.

Judge John L. Dunnigan issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the soldier, Sgt. Abdullah Al-Zaharani, 26. He had been freed on $20,000 bond.

The Saudi army also has been unable to locate Sergeant Al-Zaharani and has listed him absent without leave, said Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey L. Michael.

"I imagine he doesn't want to face charges in that country, where RTC the penalty for drug use is death," said Mr. Michael, who noted that Sergeant Al-Zaharani in addition to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 percent, well above the state's intoxication standard of 0.10 percent tested positive for having used cocaine.

Stuart Allison, Sergeant Al-Zaharani's attorney, told the court he had not heard from his client. He refused to elaborate, except to say he believed the $20,000 bond should not be forfeited to the state. Another hearing will be held to determine what happens to the bond money.

Underlying his sorrow and his anger at the accused man's

disappearance, Mr. Champ also has a concern about money: that he won't be able to pay for long-term care for his wife, Donna, 46.

However, the Saudi Arabian government has agreed, through the departments of State and Defense, to discuss a settlement with the family.

"No amount of money will make my sister whole," said Patty Forster, who along with other family members said they want to see Sergeant Al-Zaharani stand trial.

Authorities said the Saudi sergeant, learning tank maintenance at Aberdeen Proving Ground, was driving an uninsured and unregistered car that crossed the center line on Route 24 and collided with the car driven by Mrs. Champ.

Melissa Perron, who witnessed the accident, wept outside the courtroom yesterday. "It was terrible, terrible," she said, adding that she relives the accident repeatedly and has trouble sleeping.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Champ slowly is showing signs of improvement at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital. "She recognizes us now; she tries to reach out and tickle the bellies of her grandchildren," her husband said.

But Mrs. Champ, who was in a coma for three months, will need intensive rehabilitation and care for the rest of her life which the family's insurance won't cover if she is transferred from the hospital to a nursing home.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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