Two men convicted of manslaughter in teacher's death

They were accused of drag-racing that led to crash on Route 140

April 28, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Two men who caused the death of a Mount Airy Middle School teacher while drag-racing on Route 140 in June were convicted of manslaughter and assault by a Carroll County jury yesterday.

The Circuit Court jury deliberated for about four hours -- after a seven-day trial -- before finding Frederick H. Hensen Jr. and Scott D. Broadfoot Sr. guilty of manslaughter by automobile and second-degree assault.

Neither was driving the car that killed Geraldine "Geri" Lane Wu of Westminster and injured her daughter, Min-li Wu, 15, in the crash near Finksburg about 9: 30 p.m. June 1.

Hensen, 22, of Westminster and Broadfoot, 25, of Parkville declined to comment after the verdicts.

Judge Daniel W. Moylan ordered presentence investigations and allowed the defendants to remain free on bond. Both charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison.

In November, another jury deadlocked on the manslaughter and assault charges but found Hensen and Broadfoot guilty on various traffic charges, including speeding at 85 mph.

Co-defendant Mark E. Eppig, 22, of Westminster pleaded guilty to assault and manslaughter in October and testified for the prosecution. He said the men raced from the Westminster Burger King to Finksburg, where he lost control of his 1991 Nissan, crossed the grass median and crashed head-on into Wu's 1997 Mitsubishi.

Eppig received a three-year jail term in December and was sent to the county Detention Center rather than state prison, allowing him to participate in a work-release program.

Laurence Wu, a professor of philosophy at Western Maryland College, said he has been under great stress since his wife's death, with three children -- ages 11, 14 and 15 -- to care for. Min-li espe- cially has had a hard time, he said, but family and friends have helped.

"I'm glad to know the system works," he said of the guilty verdicts. "At this moment, my feeling is that I'm relieved, and I don't really care that much what kind of sentences they get. The most important step has been taken. With this over, I hope my family has begun the healing process."

Wu said Hensen and Broadfoot should not get longer sentences than Eppig did because "most people might think that's not right because their cars did not strike hers. I'll be happy if they get the same thing."

In instructing the jury yesterday morning, the judge said Hensen and Broadfoot could be found guilty even though their cars did not strike the victims.

Moylan, a retired Washington County judge, said there had to be gross negligence -- extraordinary conduct showing a reckless disregard for human life, not merely speeding, tailgating, swerving in and out, and other acts of reckless driving -- in concert with Eppig.

Witnesses, including an off-duty police officer, described such acts along 5.4 miles of Route 140 just before the crash.

David P. Daggett, assistant Carroll County state's attorney, noted Eppig's testimony that the race started with a glance between him and Broadfoot at the Westminster shopping center and was soon joined by Hensen.

In closing arguments, defense attorney J. Barry Hughes told the jury that Hensen was speeding but wasn't racing.

Witnesses for Hensen said his car wasn't capable of the speeds alleged, well over 100 mph by some accounts.

"We're not here as a referendum on loud mufflers, on young people driving negligently," Hughes told the jury. "Don't compound this tragedy by convicting someone who may have been stupid but was not grossly negligent and did not cause the death in this case."

Broadfoot's attorney, Gary W. Wiessner, said his client was speeding, not racing, and didn't know Hensen or Eppig.

In response to defense attacks on Eppig, Daggett told the jury, "This case is about responsibility. That's all it's about."

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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