Sudden death in Howard lockup

Arrested driver had medical problems, family maintains

Report of erratic driving

April 07, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A 32-year-old Annapolis man died in Howard County police custody early yesterday after he was accused of driving while impaired in Ellicott City, a charge that is being disputed by his family.

Police said Michael Keliher Donahue of the 200 block of Providence Road in Annapolis stopped breathing while sleeping in a cell with five other prisoners. He was arrested Friday night, accused of driving an unregistered, uninsured vehicle under the influence of tranquilizers.

After officers in the Southern District lockup performed CPR, he was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:58 a.m., police said.

His brother, John Murphy Donahue, 30, who was with him during the arrest, said yesterday that Michael suffered from medical problems that would explain his slurred words and poor coordination.

John Donahue said he was driving, but his older brother claimed to be the driver because John's license is suspended. He and Mary Donahue, the men's mother, said the vehicle is properly registered and insured, and contended that a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration computer glitch gave the police wrong information.

"I was driving. I got scared," John Donahue said yesterday. "He was a wonderful person. He didn't deserve to die."

The Donahues said Michael suffered kidney failure four months ago and was briefly on a ventilator to help him breathe. John said that caused some minor brain damage. A tranquilizer -- clonazepam -- was prescribed by a doctor, they said. The men operate a small construction company and were on their way home after work, they said.

Howard police spokeswoman Lisa Myers said officers were called at 7:31 p.m. Friday about a suspected drunk driver. A caller described a white van weaving on Montgomery Road near Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City. The van had hit a curb and had a flat tire. Officers found the van at a gas station in the 4200 block of Montgomery Road.

Michael Donahue identified himself as the driver but had no driver's license with him. Police said the MVA told them the tags on the Ford Astro van were registered to another vehicle. Michael's speech was slurred, he failed a field sobriety coordination test and he was arrested. A breath test administered later showed no alcohol in his system, police said.

Police searched the van and found an unlabeled prescription bottle containing five white tablets between the front seats, they said. The pills were identified as clonazepam by Poison Control Center.

Police then took Michael Donahue to the Southern District station off Route 216, where he was given the breath test. He was charged with driving under the influence and other traffic offenses.

He couldn't be processed because of his condition, police said, so he was put into a cell with five other men to sleep and was snoring loudly. At some point during the early morning, he stopped breathing.

Myers said the investigation is continuing and an autopsy will be performed.

John Donahue said he told officers his brother suffered from a medical condition. "I figured the cops would help us fix the tire. They searched the car and got really frustrated because they didn't find anything, so they arrested him," he said.

But Myers said the vehicle search is normal. "Any time we make an arrest of a person operating a motor vehicle, it is standard procedure to search the inside."

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