Drunken driver wrecks trooper's career dreams

Accident forces officer to seek a `new identity'

July 29, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The drunken driving accident that ended Maryland State Police Trooper John Patrick Barry's career came on a night he vowed to arrest at least one motorist who'd tossed back a few too many beers.

Patrolling the southern half of the Howard County stretch of Interstate 95 during the early-morning hours of Dec. 21, 2000, Barry was on the lookout for the telltale signs of drunkenness such as weaving or driving too slowly.

"I figured I'd find one that night," he recalled recently.

Instead, a drunken driver found Barry, plowing into the back of his cruiser as he sat inside writing a speeding ticket.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Howard County edition of The Sun yesterday about an accident that ended state Trooper John Patrick Barry's career incorrectly stated that Nathaniel C. Traveny, the drunken driver who hit Barry, had been acquitted in an earlier vehicular homicide case. In fact, Traveny was convicted in that case. The Sun regrets the error.

The jolt left Barry sprawled across the front seat and damaged the discs in his spine so badly that the 27-year-old Ellicott City resident, who had dreamed of a career with the FBI, was forced to take a medical retirement this year.

"When you become a police officer, a Trooper even, the occupation becomes part of your identity," Barry wrote in a victim impact statement for the sentencing of Nathaniel C. Traveny, 37, the drunken driver who hit him. "Now my life has become a search for a new identity - a new occupation, a new career, and new hobbies/leisure activities."

Traveny, a Fallentimber, Pa., resident, received a one-year jail term - the maximum penalty for the crime - from Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. on Friday.

Traveny, who is the father of a 2-month-old daughter and a co-owner of a restaurant, had pleaded with Kane for a probationary term and fine, saying he is his family's sole provider and that he cares for his elderly parents. He suffered serious injuries that left him hospitalized for more than four months and required multiple operations as a result of the crash, he said, and will "never forget" the accident.

He said he "rarely" drinks alcohol and was tired that night. Traveny's blood alcohol level measured 0.15 percent a few hours after the crash, according to previous testimony.

"I know it was foolish and ... irresponsible," he said.

But Kane noted that the December 2000 crash was Traveny's second "significant" accident. Traveny has a 12-year-old conviction for vehicular homicide on his record, for which he was acquitted.

"It just seems to me, under the circumstances, a period of incarceration is appropriate," Kane said.

Barry had just pulled over a motorist who had been driving 92 mph in a 65-mph zone on I-95 and returned to his parked cruiser on the northbound left shoulder near Vollmerhausen Road when Traveny's Honda Civic crashed into the back of the police car. The impact knocked the cruiser into the car the trooper had stopped and trapped Barry inside.

The accident has made it difficult for Barry, a four-year state police veteran named 2000 Trooper of the Year for the Waterloo barracks, to sit for long periods of time or handle uncooperative suspects.

Although he returned for a time to patrol work - and was seeking a spot on the state police accident reconstruction team - doctors decided his injuries would prohibit him from performing his job effectively, he said.

It was the same conclusion he'd already reached himself.

"At one point, I figured out I was more of a liability than a help out there," Barry said.

The realization left Barry unable to follow the career path he'd mapped out for himself.

His father, who retired last year, spent 30 years with the FBI. Barry wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Now Barry, who has a graphics design degree from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), isn't sure what comes next. He'd like to find a job that will allow him to use the accident investigation skills he learned as a trooper, he said.

"The future is very uncertain for me now, whereas before I had a plan," he said.

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