Laurel man pleads guilty in hit-and-run

Motel worker was killed while crossing Route 198

Anne Arundel

April 30, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Laurel man pleaded guilty yesterday to manslaughter in a gruesome hit-and-run incident last August in which a motel employee was struck and his body dismembered by a car involved in what police say was an impromptu road race.

Richard McHale II, 23, made no statements during the brief Anne Arundel County Circuit Court hearing, and will be sentenced June 25. He is free on $5,000 bail. Prosecutor Shelly Stickell said she will seek a four-year prison term - the maximum recommended by state guidelines under a law allowing up to 10 years in prison.

The hearing before Judge Paul A. Hackner offered the first detailed public account of the death Aug. 10 of Chelliah Johnson, 53, of Riverdale and the investigation that led police to McHale.

Johnson had left the Red Carpet Inn on Route 198 in Laurel shortly before 9 p.m. and was walking across the six-lane road to pick up dinner at a Chinese restaurant for himself and co-workers.

Stickell said witnesses saw McHale at the wheel of a white Acura Integra stopped at a nearby light next to a dark-colored Integra and talking to the other driver. The two drivers then sped off. Witnesses told police they heard the sound of an impact, which police say was McHale's car slamming into Johnson as he crossed the road.

Police estimated the speed of McHale's car at a minimum of 74 mph, though Stickell said witnesses and other indications point to a higher speed in the 40-mph zone.

Witnesses said the dark-colored car continued on Route 198, and McHale's car pulled into a convenience store lot.

Early the next morning, two women spotted what appeared to be part of a body in weeds near a car dealership. Police then reviewed the dealership's security videotapes.

"You can see the defendant actually exiting his car and taking the remains out of his car and throwing them away, basically," Stickell said.

Police were led to McHale through his brother-in-law, who told McHale's supervisor that McHale had been involved in a hit-and-run. Stickell said McHale's car had a shattered windshield and a bloody interior.

Frederick J. Sullivan, McHale's attorney, did not dispute Stickell's version, but said that at the sentencing the defense would discuss the racing issue.

McHale told police he did not know the driver of the other car. Lt. Keith Williams, who heads the department's traffic safety section, said in an interview that officers believe it was a 1993 black Integra. It probably did not hit Johnson, but the driver, if found, likely would face charges, Williams said.

A victim advocate said Johnson's relatives were too distraught to attend yesterday's hearing.

Naresh Vasandani, who was working with Johnson the night of his death, said he remembers his friend as "a wonderful gentleman, and a very nice friend, a very caring person." He said he is sad for his friend and for Johnson's devastated wife and two sons.

Vasandani said the other driver should turn himself in.

"The other person, he must be inside feeling guilty about it. His soul cannot rest like this," Vasandani said. "A man can lie to the world. He cannot lie to himself. He cannot lie to God."

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