Man pleads guilty to killing child, 6, in hit-and-run

He gets 10-year term for striking girl with truck as she left circus

October 09, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

In a hearing punctuated by tears and sobs, a Halethorpe man was given a 10-year prison sentence yesterday after he pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to hitting and killing a 6-year-old girl with his truck at a downtown intersection, then fleeing the scene.

Guillermo Diaz-Lopez, 25, entered guilty pleas on counts of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident in the death of Annie Cumpston of Harford County, who had just left a March 22 circus performance with her family. She died hours later.

Diaz-Lopez, of the 400 block of Bigley Ave., was sentenced by Circuit Judge John M. Glynn to 10 years on the manslaughter count -- the maximum penalty -- and five for the flight count, which he will serve concurrently.

But Diaz-Lopez could be eligible for parole in a little more than two years, said Mark A. Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Under state law, manslaughter by automobile falls into a category of crimes that require inmates to serve 25 percent of their sentence before seeking parole, he said.

Speaking through an interpreter during the hearing, Diaz-Lopez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, told the court: "I want to tell the family that from my heart I am very sorry. ... From my humble, poor heart, I beg your forgiveness."

Annie's parents, Tom and Megan Cumpston of Jarrettsville, sobbed as he spoke, holding each other and photos of Annie, who was the second-oldest of four daughters. Relatives and friends filled the courtroom, many wearing buttons bearing Annie's photo.

Roberta Siskind, the assistant state's attorney prosecuting the case, said Annie was struck at Lombard Street and Hopkins Plaza when Diaz-Lopez's truck veered into the crosswalk. Annie was pinned to a car before Diaz-Lopez backed up his 1989 Chevrolet truck and fled the scene.

Two witnesses pursued Diaz-Lopez in their cars and tried to stop him before a police helicopter caught up with them and called in units that apprehended Diaz-Lopez several miles away on Caton Avenue in West Baltimore.

During the hearing, Drew Gilmartin, a family member, read a 1 1/2 -page statement to the court written by Tom Cumpston. Gilmartin walked to the front of the courtroom and placed a photo of Annie on a table near the defendant.

Because "you murdered my precious little Annie in front of all of us to witness that night, we will never live our lives the same again," Gilmartin read.

Diaz-Lopez looked straight ahead, swallowing and blinking, as the statement was translated.

"Our laws unfortunately protect you and only allows you to suffer for that short period of time. ... I will never begin to understand or agree to this sentence, but unfortunately, we are all left with no choice," Gilmartin read.

Judge Glynn expressed his sorrow to the family. "I regret the law is such inadequate solace for such a horror," he said.

And to the defendant, he said, "I hope you find a way to bear your guilt." After Diaz-Lopez completes his sentence, he could face deportation, said his lawyer, Jason Shapiro.

Siskind said afterward that several traffic violations and an attempted-murder charge were dropped.

She said the plea bargain might spare the family the pain of a trial. "I think we did everything we could in this case. I wish there was more we could do. This allows them to not have to testify, which would have been devastating for them," she said.

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