Testimony on cocaine use barred in trial

January 23, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Testimony on cocaine use by a light rail operator before his train crashed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in February has been barred from his trial by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge, in a partial victory for his defense.

Judge Joseph P. Manck has ruled that prosecutors in a hearing Jan. 5 did not show the relevance of the driver's use of powdered cocaine a day or two before the train crashed into a hydraulic bumping post Feb. 13 at the BWI terminal, injuring 22 people.

But Manck, in the ruling issued Friday, said testimony will be allowed concerning the train operator's use of prescription drugs - and if testimony at the trial shows the applicability of cocaine use, the judge will reconsider his decision.

Sam Epps Jr., 54, of the 3900 block of Forest Park Ave. in Baltimore is charged with three counts of reckless endangerment and is scheduled for trial March 8. Each count carries a penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Epps has acknowledged taking the prescription drugs oxycodone and acetaminophen with codeine the morning of the accident to numb pain from tooth extractions, according to the ruling. He also acknowledged placing two cotton balls containing powdered cocaine on his gums either the night of Feb. 11 or early Feb. 12, it said.

Epps, a 25-year Mass Transit Administration employee, acknowledged taking painkillers without notifying superiors and was fired after the crash.

The judge ruled testimony regarding the prescription drugs applicable to the trial because Epps acknowledged being drowsy, and a doctor testified that codeine dulls responses and impairs coordination and decision making.

However, for the cocaine use to be relevant, the state must supply testimony that includes how long the drug stays in the body and how long it affects a person's performance, which would provide "some nexus between the application of the powdered cocaine on the gums, the effects on the Defendant, and the accident itself," Manck wrote. Anne Arundel County Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said the judge is "leaving the door open" for the prosecution to connect the cocaine use to the accident.

Craig M. Gendler, Epps' lawyer, said he was disappointed with the judge's decision on prescription drug use. He said mentioning the cocaine or painkillers would be prejudicial without testimony about whether Epps was clearly under the influence of the drugs.

Roessler said reckless endangerment charges are based on a defendant's conduct, so Epps' actions before the crash help build a case.

"Basically, I have one less piece of evidence," he said. "But we're going to see if a judge believes there's still enough to show he was reckless in his actions prior to driving the light rail."

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