Repeat drunken driver hits police car

Her 10th offense spurs call for tighter laws

November 28, 2001|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Sykesville woman rear-ended a Maryland State Police car early yesterday along Liberty Road in Carroll County, where she was arrested and charged with drunken driving - for the 10th time and only 18 days after she had finished serving more than four months in jail for her ninth drunken driving conviction.

The incident involving Brenda Lee Sawyer, of the 4700 block of Bartholow Road, brought a call for more stringent laws from two officers with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and from a Maryland state senator who led a successful battle to toughen the state's drunken driving laws in this year's General Assembly.

"That's unheard of, that she would get away with nine offenses and make this her 10th," said Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat, a chief sponsor of legislation that this year lowered the blood-alcohol level for legal intoxication needed to convict someone of the most serious drunken-driving offense from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.

She "should not be driving a car. You can take [her] permit away, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't drive," Ruben said.

Court-ordered devices that prevent a car from being started if the driver's breath registers an illegal blood-alcohol content would help, Ruben said. "The repeat offender is the target, as far as I'm concerned," she added. "And hitting a police car!"

Sawyer, 42, had nine drunken-driving convictions and was driving yesterday with a license that was revoked Aug. 7, said Lt. Terry Katz, commander of the Westminster barracks.

Sawyer was disheveled and distraught when she saw a Carroll County District Court commissioner about noon yesterday. She said she had a problem with alcohol, had recently been released from a six-month term in the Carroll County Detention Center and was on probation requiring her to abstain from alcohol.

Asked about her convictions since she turned 18, Sawyer told the commissioner, "They would all be DWIs ... eight - I'm sorry - nine. I believe this started in 1980 and I can't remember all the dates, years and things. ... I went to jail for the last one."

Sawyer works part-time as a waitress in Westminster and runs the Past-Time Antiques business from her home of six years.

Yesterday's incident occurred about 1 a.m. on Liberty Road, east of Georgetown Boulevard in Eldersburg, when Trooper Rebecca Bosley pulled her marked car onto the eastbound shoulder of the road, where it was hit by a 1988 Dodge Caravan. The police car had to be towed from the scene.

The driver of the Caravan fled into nearby woods, according to court documents. State police were calling for the K-9 unit when the suspect came out of the woods about 20 minutes later, shoeless and covered in dirt. The woman had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, poor balance and smelled of alcohol, according to the police report.

She ignored requests for a field sobriety test, refused to take a breath test, aggressively argued her innocence - then cried, saying she had only been a drunk passenger, according to police.

Sawyer was ordered held for $250,000 bail at the Carroll County Detention Center on nine charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while impaired, failure to remain at the scene of an accident with both injury and property damage, driving while suspended and driving while revoked.

Each carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine - but can be increased for repeat offenders to no more than three years and $3,000 after three or more convictions. Three other charges of reckless driving, negligent driving and violating a license restriction are misdemeanors punishable by fines ranging from $50 to $570.

Court records show Sawyer has eight convictions from 1980 to 1995 in Montgomery County District Court, five for driving under the influence (blood-alcohol level between .07 to .10) and three for driving while intoxicated (blood alcohol at .10 or above). The sentences imposed included probation before judgment, four suspended sentences, one 60-day weekend placement in a local program, a 60-day sentence, and a nine month sentence, with three months at a prerelease center and six months of home detention.

In June, Carroll County Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. found Sawyer guilty of driving under the influence on Feb. 15, 2000, and sentenced her to serve six months of a maximum one-year term in the Carroll jail, recommending work release. She was released Nov. 8.

"She got more time in her one Carroll County case than she got in the eight Montgomery County cases combined, so I think our Carroll County judge handled it pretty well," said David P. Daggett, a senior state's attorney in Carroll.

Daggett, who has handled many drunken driving cases, noted "nine's a record for a woman."

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