Woman guilty of 10th DUI offense

Ex-Sykesville resident's latest conviction stems from crash with police car

May 07, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A former Sykesville woman was found guilty yesterday of her 10th drunken-driving offense, this time for crashing her vehicle into the rear of a state police car and fleeing into the woods Nov. 27 -- less than three weeks after she left the Carroll County Detention Center on probation from a previous drunken-driving offense.

Brenda Lee Sawyer, 42, who has been homeless since the arrest, has been living under the Carroll County's sheriff's custody at a Hagerstown residential treatment center, where she was sent in February after spending two weeks at the Shoemaker Center inpatient treatment program in Sykesville.

Sawyer was found guilty by Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. on three of 13 charges after an agreed-on statement of facts was read into the record by Senior State's Attorney David P. Daggett. The remaining charges were dropped.

Burns convicted Sawyer of driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident involving an injury and driving with a revoked license. He also found her guilty of violating her probation on the previous drunken-driving conviction, and ordered a pre-sentence investigation. He set sentencing for Aug. 6.

Daggett said he will seek the maximum sentence for Sawyer -- three years as a repeat offender for driving under the influence, plus consecutive one-year terms on the two other charges -- but will ask that two of the five years be suspended "so she'll have two years hanging over her head."

Senior Public Defender Judson K. Larrimore said after the guilty finding that Sawyer is "very remorseful" and recognizes the need for punishment as well as treatment in a secure and sober environment. Her mother, Glenda Sawyer, was in court but did not comment during the proceedings and refused to comment when reached later.

Sawyer, who was escorted in and out of the courtroom by officers yesterday, had eight drunken-driving convictions in Montgomery County between 1980 and 1995, according to court records.

In June last year, after Sawyer's first Carroll County drunken-driving conviction, Burns sentenced her to serve six months of a one-year jail term. She was released on probation Nov. 8 and required to abstain from alcohol. Her driver's license was revoked Aug. 7.

After her most recent arrest, Sawyer was evicted by her longtime boyfriend and lost her job as a waitress in Westminster.

She is doing well as a resident at the W House facility, according to her court file, attending a minimum of seven Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week, with negative results on tests for alcohol and drugs. She is working at a new job as a waitress.

Sawyer dressed for court yesterday in a deep-purple suit and white blouse, with her hair up, and wearing handcuffs and ankle cuffs. Her conservative courtroom demeanor contrasted sharply with her appearance when was arrested: without shoes and with her jeans and a Fighting Irish sweat shirt smeared with dirt from her flight into the woods after the crash.

The statement of facts said the most recent incident took place about 1 a.m. Nov. 27 when Sawyer drove her Dodge Caravan into a Maryland State Police car that was stopped on the eastbound shoulder of Liberty Road in Eldersburg.

Trooper Rebecca Bosley, who was later treated for neck injuries, called in the accident and a description of fleeing driver, who was visible by the one remaining headlight on the minivan. A 22-minute police search ensued.

Sawyer, who said little in court yesterday other than replying "yes" several times when asked whether she understood the proceedings, covered her eyes as Daggett read the police description of her behavior in the hours after she was caught.

Daggett's account said that Sawyer's mood that night shifted from sullen to argumentative to tearful. Police said she repeatedly claimed that she had only been a passenger in her minivan and had jumped out because someone -- variously described as a friend or a stranger -- was "driving crazy," Daggett said.

Sawyer refused to take a breath test that night. But Daggett said that if the case had been contested at trial, he would have called as witnesses a state toxicologist and the bartender who served her a glass of wine and three Black Russians -- enough, he said, to put her blood alcohol level at an estimated and illegal 0.12.

She was thrown out of the bar about 1 a.m. for the unprovoked slapping of a man, not long before she hit the trooper's car, Daggett said.

After the court proceeding, Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said of Sawyer: "If she doesn't represent a clear and present danger to the citizens of Maryland and this county, I don't know who would."

Sun staff writer Rob Hiaasen contributed to this article.

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