Attorney calls crash a mistake, not crime Inexperience caused accident that killed 2, defense tells court

December 17, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

With 12 minutes to get two teen-age cousins home by their 11: 30 p.m. curfew, William J. Kassakatis was driving somewhat above the speed limit June 25, when he missed a curve in Eldersburg and hit a tree, killing both girls.

"It was a classic adolescent male sin," defense attorney Andrew D. Levy told a Carroll County jury yesterday in his opening statement in describing the events that led to the trial of the 19-year-old Marriottsville man on charges of automobile manslaughter and lesser offenses.

Kassakatis' actions did not meet the law's requirement of gross negligence or callous disregard for the lives of Jill Marie Peay, 15, of the 7400 block of Norris Ave. in Sykesville, and Jessica Erin Harley, 16, of the 1700 block of Maryland Ave. in Shady Side, Anne Arundel County, he said.

"The first error in judgment was [trying] to get the girls home as near to curfew as possible," Levy said. "Looking back, the heart cries at that."

"Error No. 2: He did what adolescent boys do -- he overestimated his driving skills," Levy told the jury.

Police listed speed and driver inexperience as factors, Levy said, but Kassakatis was not going as fast at the state alleges. A better driver would have made the turn, he said.

Both girls died at the scene of multiple injuries, some of which could have been caused only by great force, an assistant medical examiner told the jury. But Dr. Daniel Keith Brown said he could not estimate the speed that caused the heavy bones to break. He found no trace of drugs or alcohol.

rTC Kassakatis was hospitalized for several days after the accident.

Several witnesses who ran to the crash scene in the 6600 block of Monroe Ave. testified for the prosecution yesterday. They attempted to help Kassakatis, who regained consciousness before collapsing, and the girls who were trapped in the two-door car.

They described hearing a car coming -- the sounds of an engine, tires and brakes -- then seeing the car out of control before it spun around and struck the tree.

Judy Geilfuss, an X-ray technician, said she was upstairs in her home when she "heard the car coming around rather fast, saw it go by, and then I heard it hit."

She estimated the speed of the car at "35 to 45?" in a statement to a state trooper that night. She said it might have been going faster -- perhaps 50 to 60 mph -- but wasn't sure.

"I didn't hear any screams or anything, and I was afraid somebody was hurt really bad," she said. She ran to the car and sought a pulse in the girl in the front seat.

Finding none, she tried to get to the girl in the back but "everything was just smashed, and I couldn't," Geilfuss said. "I took care of the driver in between."

"I kept trying to get him to lie down," she said. "He wanted to get back to the car and we wouldn't let him," she testified. Kassakatis kept saying, "I got to see the girls. I got to see the girls."

The cousins had spent the week together in Sykesville during their summer vacation.

Jill's father, James D. Peay was the state's first witness yesterday. He said he'd thought his daughter and her cousin would stay home that night because Erin was leaving in the morning.

But they wanted to go to a friend's house for a couple of hours to watch a movie, he said, and Kassakatis was on his way to take them there. Peay said the defendant had been to his home a couple of times before.

Peay agreed to let them go, setting an 11: 30 p.m. curfew. He told the jury he didn't remember ever punishing Jill for being out late -- she was good about getting home on time.

The trial before Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. is expected to continue for two days.

Pub Date: 12/17/98

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