Woman pleads guilty in death of 7-year-old

Drunken driver hit group on its way to city school

She gets 8-year sentence

Manslaughter plea deal drops DUI, other charge

May 17, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A woman who was driving while drunk when she struck and killed a 7-year-old girl in December in Northeast Baltimore pleaded guilty yesterday to automobile manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

More than two dozen relatives and friends of Brijae D. Harris, the second-grader who was killed as she was going to school, were in court as Debra A. Chafin, 45, was sentenced by Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown.

Chafin faced a maximum 10-year sentence. As part of the plea agreement, charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident were dropped.

She pleaded guilty the same day Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed legislation that makes it a felony for a driver to leave the scene of an accident in which there has been serious injury. It continues to be a misdemeanor in the case of minor injuries.

On Dec. 20, Brijae was walking to Furley Elementary School with her mother, Monique Glover; her baby brother; and a schoolmate, Monique Sandy-Bell, 6. The four were struck by a maroon 1990 Lincoln Continental driven by Chafin, who ran a red light on Moravia Road at Sipple Avenue.

Glover, who was carrying her infant son, tried to push the girls out of the way. Brijae was killed almost instantly. Glover suffered minor injuries, her son sustained facial injuries, and Monique's leg was broken.

Chafin did not stop after the accident. She was arrested at her home on Seidel Avenue, not far from the school. A breath test showed her blood-alcohol level to be 0.27 percent, more than three times Maryland's legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Chafin did not speak during the hourlong hearing yesterday. During a discussion in Brown's chambers, Chafin's attorney, Peter T. Kandel, said his client wanted to apologize to Brijae's family.

"I at that point advised him ... that Ms. Glover does not want to hear an apology," said Assistant State's Attorney Jan M. Alexander.

Glover testified yesterday that she will never understand how someone could run over people and drive away, Alexander said.

"That's when she said the time for an apology would have been, before now," Alexander said.

The girl's father, Ronnie Harris, said he will not get the chance to see how pretty Brijae would have looked on prom night or to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day, Alexander said.

Monique, the other Furley Elementary pupil who was struck by Chafin that day, also attended the hearing. So did a minister who was driving behind Chafin that morning and followed her after she left the accident scene while his granddaughter wrote down her license plate number, Alexander said.

Alexander said he offered the plea agreement because he didn't think Brijae's family would want to endure the pain of a trial. "At least now they can start the healing process," Alexander said.

Had Chafin gone to trial on all three charges, she could have been sentenced to a maximum of 13 years, Alexander said. The charge she pleaded guilty to carried a sentence of five to 10 years.

"Obviously, we wanted the max," Alexander said. "This, in my estimation, wasn't a question of guilt or innocence. It was a question of how much time. Ms. Glover wanted the 10 years but accepted the eight."

Glover issued a statement through Ilene Frame, who is representing her in a civil claim for damages.

"She was satisfied with the plea agreement insofar as nothing will bring Brijae back," Frame said. "She did not feel today that the defendant was remorseful."

Alexander said Chafin was supposed to be sentenced yesterday afternoon in Baltimore County for a driving while intoxicated offense that occurred before Brijae's death and carries a maximum sentence of two years. Because of a transportation problem, Chafin didn't appear in court in Baltimore County yesterday, he said.

Alexander heralded the legislation about leaving the scene of an accident that was sponsored by Del. William A. Bronrott.

But Alexander said he wished the penalty for manslaughter was stiffer.

"You can get up to 10 years for second-degree assault and up to 20 years for first-degree assault ... and in manslaughter somebody gets killed," Alexander said.

But Glover said she was pleased with the bill: "My daughter's death wasn't in vain. Something good came out of it."

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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