Jury rejects excuses for a highway tragedy

This Just In...

March 03, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

I ADMIT a dark bias against what are known as "aggressive drivers," the ones - usually males between 18 and 45 - who speed, tailgate and weave through traffic. They breathe down your neck and roar up your spine. On highways and boulevards, side streets and county two-lanes, they intimidate average drivers, fill up our rear-view mirrors with grillwork, swerve within inches of our backsides and pollute the air with angry, full-throttle growls. They're all insane. They're all going to kill somebody someday.

Pardon the hyperbole.

I'm coming off a mind-altering experience out on Interstate 83, between Timonium and Cockeysville. At midday, a car - think it was a car, though it was more like a blur - shot off the Beltway inner loop and hit the northbound lane at 75 mph, and climbing. It zipped to the rear of a car in the far left lane, bobbed to the middle, back to the left, accelerated to 80 or 90 and disappeared. Literally in three or four seconds, it was gone from sight. (My vantage was 150 yards back, in the right lane, as my car gained speed entering I-83 from the outer loop of the Beltway.)

It was a stunning moment.

I'm sure I wasn't the only driver left breathless by it - just as I'm certainly not the only person who's had an ugly experience with the heavy metal idiots. I'm not the only driver who believes he's come within inches of sudden death at one time or another. I figure at this point in life, I qualify as a survivor. Probably most of us do.

It wasn't just the I-83 incident that brings me to this subject today. Events last week in Baltimore County Circuit Court had more to do with it. An auto manslaughter case from last summer - Shawn P. Campion, 20, of Catonsville, charged in the death of Eric Eidman, a 36-year-old cook from Tersiguel's in Ellicott City - finally came to trial.

You might remember the case (TJI, July 5 and Aug. 14, 1996). It's a tragic story - for two families.

Eidman, married and the father of a 3-year-old boy, left the kitchen of Tersiguel's around 10 p.m. on Friday June 14, 1996. He telephoned his wife, Brenda, to say he was headed home to Northeast Baltimore. He stopped at a convenience store to buy a soda. A little while later, he was driving eastbound on Frederick Road, near Dimitri's Restaurant, when an Isuzu Rodeo crossed the double yellow line and slammed into Eidman's Subaru Impreza.

Firefighters and paramedics worked to free Eidman from his mangled car. They could not save him.

Four passengers were in the Isuzu, three of them 20 and one 16. (They were charged with possession of alcohol under the legal age.) According to testimony last week in Circuit Court, there was a large plastic cooler full of ice and beer in the back seat of the Rodeo. Campion, the driver, and his pals had planned on a party in a wooded area of Ellicott City. That's where they were headed when the crash occurred. (Neither Campion nor his passengers were injured.)

Campion fled the scene before Baltimore County police got there. He got a ride to his house, obtained another vehicle and drove to the Eastern Shore. He drove back to Catonsville the next day and surrendered at the Wilkens Precinct. By then, of course, it would have been pointless for police to give Campion a Breathalyzer test or check his blood for alcohol.

So while investigators originally used the term "alcohol-related" to describe the collision, they ultimately could not prove Campion was driving under the influence. The only evidence that Campion drank any alcoholic beverages on the day of Eric Eidman's death came from friends of his, who said they saw Campion take a couple of beers four or five hours before the crash.

Charges of driving while intoxicated were dropped.

But automobile manslaughter stuck - as did 10 other, lesser charges.

A jury of 12 sensible men and women - all, I would say, between 35 and 65 years of age - saw through a defense argument that other vehicles on Frederick Road might have forced Campion to maneuver the Isuzu in front of Eidman's oncoming Subaru.

The jury rejected the testimony of an accident expert, hired at $95 an hour by the defense, who put the Isuzu's speed at under 35 mph at the moment of impact. Instead, the jurors believed eyewitness estimates of between 60 mph and 70 mph. (And that on a hilly curve on a rainy Friday night in Catonsville. Evidence showed the Rodeo left no skid marks at the crash site.) Jurors heard one of the defendant's chums say Campion frequently showed "a heavy foot" when driving.

The jury rejected the defense's explanation for Shawn Campion's flight - that he was a coddled, insulated suburban kid who panicked when he saw Eric Eidman's mutilated body and ran away because he couldn't cope.

Most of all, the jury rejected the contention that the death of Eric Eidman was an accident. The bad curve wasn't to blame, the hill wasn't to blame, the rain wasn't to blame, alcohol wasn't to blame. Shawn Campion was to blame.

Judge John F. Fader II revoked his bail and sent him to jail. Sentencing is in three weeks. Maximum penalty is 10 years.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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