Driver in crash convicted years ago

Man accused in fatality this week was guilty of manslaughter in 1988

January 14, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Kirk R. DeCosmo, whose van weaved across the road in a crash that killed a Ferndale man this week, was convicted of vehicular manslaughter in a fiery collision more than a decade ago and a mile away that claimed the life of a 44-year-old woman.

Yesterday, Anne Arundel County prosecutors described DeCosmo, a twice-convicted drug dealer, as an expert manipulator and compared him to a serial killer.

DeCosmo was on probation from his last conviction, for dealing the drug PCP, and prosecutors said he might have been in jail Tuesday night instead of driving on Furnace Branch Road had a circuit judge not released him from a 12-year sentence in 1996 so that he could enter a drug-treatment program.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Friday's editions on the background of Kirk R. DeCosmo, a driver involved in two fatal collisions, incorrectly stated the amount of suspected marijuana found in his van after the latest accident on Tuesday night. It was 2 grams, rather than 2 ounces. The Sun regrets the error.

"I think the best way to characterize him is that in some respects he's a serial killer," said Deputy Anne Arundel State's Attorney William D. Roessler.

Probation for DeCosmo, 38, was to run through October, Roessler said. It stemmed from a decision by Circuit Judge Martin A. Wolff who had imposed the 12-year term on DeCosmo but relented six weeks later in favor of drug rehabilitation.

Assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles, who prosecuted that case, recalled yesterday that she "strenuously objected" to Wolff's decision.

"I had no belief that he was going to change his ways," Miles said. "I remember he was very manipulative, and the judge may have believed he was going to change his ways, and I guess Second Genesis [the treatment program] believed he was going to change his ways."

Roessler said DeCosmo completed the yearlong inpatient treatment program at Second Genesis in Crownsville.

"It's not an easy program," Roessler said. "I'm sure that Judge Wolff thought that society was better off by having him do that for a year. I guess he was wrong."

Wolff, who retired in 1998, could not be reached for comment.

Killed in Tuesday night's crash was 61-year-old Harry Wolford Dailey of the 1600 block of Pleasantville Drive. A truck mechanic and former truck driver, he was married and had seven children and a dozen grandchildren.

County police said witnesses reported seeing DeCosmo's Ford Econoline van speeding and weaving on Furnace Branch Road immediately before crossing a double-yellow line and slamming head-on into Dailey's Chevrolet pickup truck. Dailey was declared dead at the scene.

DeCosmo, of the 8300 block of Dubbs Drive in Severn, was being treated for head injuries at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Police said he would be booked on charges of vehicular manslaughter and marijuana possession upon release from the hospital.

Officer Charles Ravenell, a county police spokesman, said 2 ounces of suspected marijuana was found in the van after the crash.

Yesterday, as the Dailey family received visitors at Gonce Funeral Home, a daughter told a visitor how her father had survived colon cancer a year and a half ago and said, crying, "And now this."

Services will be held at the funeral home, 4001 Ritchie Highway, at 11 a.m. today.

News of the latest accident prompted a call to the county state's attorney's office yesterday from the daughter of the victim in DeCosmo's 1987 crash.

Sandra Jean Nellenback, who was 23 when her mother, Freda Kay Seifert of Glen Burnie, was killed, said she told Roessler that she wants to be in court the next time DeCosmo goes on trial.

"My heart goes out to Mr. Dailey's family," she told The Sun later. "I had hoped no one else would ever have to go through what we went through. Maybe this time this county will wake up and realize this man is a threat. How many more people have to be killed by him?"

Nellenback of Pasadena said she has tried to keep track of DeCosmo since the night of her mother's death, May 26, 1987, when she was stopped at a light on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie and her car was hit from behind by a vehicle traveling 80 to 100 mph, witnesses estimated.

The night before the trial, she said, the state's attorney's office called her to discuss a plea offer in which DeCosmo would have gotten a three-year sentence. She refused, insisting on the trial. DeCosmo was convicted and given the maximum of five years for vehicular manslaughter but was acquitted of being under the influence of PCP.

"Gross is an understatement to describe the kind of negligence toward the safety and property of others that the defendant showed in his driving on this night," Judge Robert Heller said in finding DeCosmo guilty on the traffic charges in January 1988.

Prosecutors said medical tests showed traces of the hallucinogenic drug in his blood and urine, but his public defender said there was no evidence that the PCP affected his driving.

Eight years later, Seifert's relatives were outraged by Wolff's decision to send DeCosmo to Second Genesis. They said Wolff was swayed by an acquaintance, Glen Burnie lawyer George Lantzas, who testified on DeCosmo's behalf.

DeCosmo's wife had been Lantzas' secretary. The lawyer's office said yesterday that she hasn't worked there for two years.

Roessler said his office will ask for maximum consecutive sentences when DeCosmo next appears for trial, a total of about 20 years for the manslaughter charge and violating probation in the drug case.

"So, if he gets 20 years it will be another 10 years before he can drive and kill somebody," Roessler said.

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