O.C. wreck seen fault of judge

Burns, a passenger, pressed accelerator of his car, police say

Incident went unreported

Driver is charged in accident, which damaged property

October 18, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | By Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. caused his car to speed forward and damage several objects on the grounds of a townhouse development in Ocean City the night of Oct. 2, an incident that neither the judge, the Finksburg man driving nor the four other passengers reported to police, according to Ocean City police.

Police said Burns, who was sitting in the middle of the front seat, depressed the car's accelerator as it sat in a parking place at Windows on the Bay Restaurant near 61st Street and Coastal Highway that night. The vehicle ran over a concrete parking bumper, knocked down a small sign, struck a trailer holding two personal watercraft, damaged several shrubs and hit latticework screening an outdoor air-conditioning unit before driving over a second parking bumper and stopping, police said.

The car probably traveled 30 to 40 feet, police said.

"Nobody saw this happen," said Jay Hancock, Ocean City police spokesman, who inspected the scene.

Police learned of the damage the morning of Oct. 3, when it was discovered by a resident of the Trader Bay development on 61st Street, he said. A police officer investigating the complaint found a headlight cover from a Lincoln at the scene.

The next morning, another officer saw the damaged car and notified the officer investigating the incident, who matched the evidence from the scene to the vehicle, Hancock said.

As his car was about to be impounded, Burns, 67, of Westminster approached an officer, police said.

The judge said he had not been driving and identified the driver as Horace Sterling Brauning Jr., 71, of Finksburg.

Brauning said he was driving that night because he had not been drinking, according to the police.

Brauning received two traffic citations, one charging failure to remain at the scene of a property-damage collision, and another charging failure to report a property-damage collision.

Burns was not charged, and no charges are contemplated, Hancock said.

Burns refused to comment. Brauning could not be reached for comment. Hancock said police did not know the identities of the other passengers.

The incident began when Burns and Brauning, part of a group of 10 to 12 golfers, left the Windows on the Bay restaurant about 10 p.m., Hancock said. A manager at the restaurant said yesterday that he did not remember the group and was not aware of the incident.

Hancock said the damage was mistakenly characterized as extensive in a news release last week, but was something that would have been apparent to the occupants of the car.

`The tracks are out there'

"The tracks are out there," he said. "The car ran over a concrete bumper and hit a fence surrounding a box - an air-conditioning unit with a wooden railing and fence around it. They ran over shrubbery. They also ran over a little sign that said `Private Parking Area.'"

The boat trailer was gone when he went to inspect the area this week, but apparently it had been pushed aside, not damaged, he said.

"They knew they had hit something, but they thought it was just trees," Hancock said. "It was dark. It wasn't like they hit brick and went through the walls, but they did know they hit it."

"If you hit trees on private property, you have to report it," he said. "If he's a judge, he knows you don't hit something and drive away - even if you're not the driver."

Judicial panel

Aside from charges against Brauning, the matter could fall under the state's Commission on Judicial Disabilities, which oversees the conduct of judges.

The commission could act on a complaint or open a file, said Steven P. Lemmey, its investigative counsel. The commission's work is secret. It does not disclose, for example, whether it is looking into the actions of a member of the Maryland judiciary.

An inquiry could be opened based on news reports, he said, "to have us quickly take a look and see if there's anywhere to go with this." The majority of files are closed before they reach the preliminary investigation stage.

Other incidents

Burns was fined and received probation before judgment on his guilty plea in 1997 to a charge of driving with a suspended license, issued after a minor traffic accident in December 1996 near Westminster.

A routine police check at the time showed that the judge's license had been suspended in February 1996, after he twice failed to appear in Baltimore County District Court on a 1995 speeding ticket.

That suspension was lifted after Burns paid a fine.

His license also was suspended in 1994, after a failure to appear in Baltimore County on a speeding ticket from 1993.

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