Contractor gets year in jail in drunken-driving case I-95 accident in 1996 left woman, 21, in wheelchair

September 26, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Sherry Gray wanted to be a police officer. But when she appeared in court yesterday to see that a man was sent to jail, she wasn't in uniform. She was in a wheelchair.

Last year, Gray, 21, was trapped between two vehicles when one was struck from behind by a drunken driver who fell asleep at the wheel. She lost both legs below the knee.

Yesterday, as Gray sat in the courtroom, Charles J. Spanninger IV, 41, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated. Howard District Judge Alice Gail Clark sentenced the Baltimore contractor to one year in jail and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine for what she said was subjecting Gray to "a life of torture."

"You're a scofflaw," Clark told Spanninger, who has a previous drunken-driving conviction. "It is a tragedy that did not have to happen."

The sentence was the maximum allowed.

Spanninger, dressed in a suit, was immediately taken into custody as members of the family of Gray's boyfriend applauded the sentence. Tears rolled down Gray's face.

"Mr. Spanninger has ruined my life," Gray told the court before his sentencing. "I've basically been sitting down for a year. I know Mr. Spanninger is sorry, but he should pay for what he's done."

Near midnight Sept. 13 of last year, Gray and her boyfriend, Robert Drayton, 21, pulled their broken-down car onto the shoulder of Interstate 95 near its intersection with Route 32.

The couple called Drayton's father, Daniel Selke, for help. After he arrived, Gray was standing between the two vehicles when Spanninger's car slammed into the back of the rear vehicle, driving the two cars together.

One leg was amputated that night. Doctors struggled in vain for days to save the other. Drayton and his father were also injured and still suffer from back and neck pain, according to court testimony.

Spanninger, who said he had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for three years before the incident, was returning from a friend's house where he had drunk seven beers. The friend urged him to spend the night, but Spanninger said he had to get home, he said in court.

"I don't expect you to ever forgive me," Spanninger told Gray yesterday. "It's an unforgivable situation."

Gray had been a member of Howard County Police Department's Explorer Post 1952 for six years before the accident. She said she had hoped to become a police officer. Yesterday, about six police officers came to court to support her, hugging her after the sentence was handed down.

After the accident, members of that police youth organization sold cookie dough to raise money to help pay Gray's medical bills. In court yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Ann Singleton said that Gray's bills had reached nearly $250,000.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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