Car's speed questioned in trial

Expert casts doubt because of bad wheel

April 23, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

An accident reconstructionist testifying for one of two men on trial in the auto manslaughter death of a Westminster woman said yesterday that damage to the defendant's car "in all probability" would have prevented him from driving faster than 70 mph without losing a wheel.

Charles T. Pembleton explained that his testimony was based on his inspection of a wheel that defendant Frederick H. Hensen Jr. said was on the left front of his car on June 1, the day of the fatal accident on Route 140 near Finksburg.

Geraldine Lane "Geri" Wu, a Mount Airy Middle School teacher, was killed instantly when a Nissan driven by Mark E. Eppig, 22, of Westminster went out of control, crossed the median and crashed head-on into her Mitsubishi.

Wu's daughter, Min-li, now 15, was a passenger in her mother's car. She was injured and airlifted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where she was treated and released the next day.

Prosecutors contend that Eppig; Hensen, 22, of Westminster; and co-defendant Scott D. Broadfoot Sr., 25, of Parkville are equally culpable in the death because they were racing for more than 5.5 miles down Route 140 at speeds exceeding 100 mph before the accident.

A mistrial was declared in November when a different Carroll jury was unable to reach a verdict. Hensen and Broadfoot were charged with manslaughter and second-degree assault.

Yesterday, during the fifth day of testimony in the retrial, Hensen testified that he was taking a friend home. He said he was not racing or playing follow the leader or any other game.

He said his top speed was 70 mph to 75 mph and that his left front wheel was vibrating wildly because only two of four wheel studs and lug nuts secured the wheel. The other two studs had snapped off, he said.

After examining the wheel, Pembleton said, he was "amazed it didn't fail." He showed the jury photographs of the holes in the wheel, pointing out damage that he said was caused by stress placed on the two remaining studs and lug nuts.

J. Barry Hughes, Hensen's lawyer, asked Pembleton how likely wheel failure would have been if Hensen had been driving 85 mph or 95 mph. Pembleton said the probability of failure would have doubled if the speed had increased from 75 mph to 85 mph. He said the probability would have increased sixfold if the speed had risen from 75 mph to 95 mph.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney David P. Daggett will get to cross-examine Pembleton when the trial resumes Monday. Earlier yesterday, Daggett focused his cross-examination of Hensen on the defendant's contention that he had maintained a constant speed within a few car lengths of Broadfoot from Sandymount Road to Suffolk Road and beyond, until Eppig passed him and Broadfoot, before his Nissan went out of control near Sunset Lane.

Daggett asked Hensen several times why he was driving so fast when he knew his wheel was damaged.

The prosecutor also asked Hensen why he did not stop immediately at the accident scene. Hensen said he did not want to stop in the middle of the scene. He returned to the scene moments later.

Daggett asked Hensen why he parked in the grass median adjacent to Eppig's car, in the middle of the accident scene. "Were you going too fast to pull over and stop when you passed Mr. Eppig's car the first time?" asked Daggett.

"No," Hensen said. "I just didn't want to drive through the middle of an accident scene."

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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