Factors are detailed in dismissal of charges in fatal Howard crash

May 06, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A police officer who didn't realize how seriously a victim was injured and a prosecutor's maternity leave were among the factors that enabled an Ellicott City woman to avoid a vehicular homicide charge after killing a motorcyclist in a drunken-driving accident, Howard's top prosecutor said.

Susan Elizabeth Williams, 35, could be sentenced to up to a year in jail after her conviction Monday of driving under the influence, the most serious charge that remained after a Howard County Circuit Court judge dismissed motor-vehicle homicide charges related to the death Sept. 7 of Dennis Jerry Sullivan.

The judge ruled that Williams' decision to pay a $275 negligent-driving citation issued the night of the crash on Baltimore National Pike protected her from prosecution on a vehicular homicide charge, which carries a maximum jail sentence of five years.

An on-call prosecutor who was first notified by police of Sullivan's death may not have known that Williams had been cited for negligent driving, said State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone.

Another prosecutor, who was on maternity leave at the time, was later assigned the case. When she returned to work, she filed paperwork to drop the negligent-driving charge, seven weeks after the accident. But Williams, 35, paid the fine and costs before the matter was dismissed, he said.

Because negligent driving is considered a lesser form of motor-vehicle homicide, constitutional protections against double jeopardy, or trying a person twice for the same crime, barred prosecutors from trying Williams on the stronger charges, a Howard circuit judge ruled last month.

"I think the best way we can protect ourselves from this is simply not to issue negligent-driving citations," McCrone said.

Williams' sentencing in front of Howard Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney is scheduled July 7.

Sullivan was stopped for a traffic light at St. John's Lane on eastbound Baltimore National Pike just after midnight when Williams, who had just left work at a nearby Burger King, crashed her Toyota Camry into the back of his motorcycle, prosecutors said.

Williams' blood-alcohol level was later measured at 0.29 percent, more than three times the legal limit.

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