2 plead guilty in death of woman

Men, 20 and 19, pushed Jeep down embankment

Judge sets sentencing for Oct. 22

Victim pinned by vehicle in Cockeysville apartment

August 20, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Two young Parkville men unexpectedly pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday in the death of a Cockeysville woman who suffocated after an unoccupied Jeep pushed down a hill crashed through a brick wall and into her bedroom.

As a prosecutor described for the judge the frantic but ultimately failed struggle to extricate Melanie J. Wentz, 28, from the Jeep Wrangler that had pinned her on her bed, her sobbing parents hurriedly left the courtroom and did not return.

In court for what was expected to be a routine pretrial hearing, David J. Myers, 20, of the 9000 block of Waltham Woods Road and Anton F. Marx Jr., 19, of the 1800 block of Redwood Ave. pleaded guilty to misdemeanor manslaughter in Wentz's death Feb. 12.

Myers and Marx, who Assistant State's Attorney Stephen Roscher said had been on a spree of sport utility vehicle break-ins, will be sentenced Oct. 22. The maximum each could receive is 10 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines call for three months to four years.

A third suspect, who is 16, had previously admitted guilt and is being detained at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School, Roscher said after the 20-minute hearing.

In the courtroom of Judge John G. Turnbull II, Marx and Myers did not make any statements except to affirm with "Yes, sir" and "Yes, your honor" that they understood the implications of their pleas.

Wentz's parents did not want to comment, Roscher said.

Roger Birkel, executive director of the Baltimore Zoo where Wentz worked as a public relations manager, declined to comment. A neighbor of Wentz's also declined to comment. "The family has already been through enough," the neighbor said.

Wentz, a graduate of American University in Washington, was sleeping in her apartment in the 300 block of Limestone Valley Drive when the Jeep Wrangler crashed through her bedroom wall.

Roscher, who read to the court what the state would have argued during a trial, gave this account of the events leading to Wentz's death:

That night, Myers, Marx and the juvenile "were bored and decided to go out and steal from several Jeeps," Roscher said. For the previous four months, the three had broken into and stolen from Jeeps "numerous times," he said.

Marx drove, first to Sorley Road and Old Providence Way, where Myers and the juvenile broke into a Jeep and stole some things. After putting that Jeep into neutral and releasing the parking brake, the two pushed it down the road. The Jeep rolled into a cable box, destroying it.

Next, the trio went to a parking lot at the Century Apartments, where Wentz lived. Myers and the juvenile broke into a Jeep, put it into neutral and released the parking brake.

About 2 a.m., they pushed it over a curb, sending the Jeep down a steep, grassy embankment and through the brick wall of Wentz's basement apartment.

The 3,000-pound vehicle stopped halfway through the wall, coming to rest on Wentz, who was lying in bed. When police arrived, Roscher said, "She was asking for help."

But rescue was difficult. Police tried lowering the bed. Paramedics tried inflating pillows to raise the Jeep, but that also didn't work.

It took 15 to 20 minutes to remove Wentz, but by that time she had died, Roscher said. A medical examiner ruled the cause of death was "compression asphyxiation."

Roscher said the state would ask that Marx and Myers be sentenced to state prison, rather than to county jail, where the maximum sentence is 18 months.

David Henninger, a lawyer for Marx, said the defendants probably would ask to go to the jail.

Myers will continue being held in the county Detention Center pending sentencing. Marx remains free on bail.

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