Howard woman gets 1-year term in fatal crash

July 08, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 35-year-old Ellicott City woman who was legally drunk when she crashed into the back of a motorcycle, killing its rider, was sentenced yesterday to one year in jail, the maximum penalty after prosecutors were forced to drop more serious charges.

Saying the limitations of the case did not allow him to send Susan Elizabeth Williams to prison for a substantial period and also place her on probation centered on alcohol treatment, Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said the 1-year term was needed to meet "the goal of justice in this case."

Yesterday's sentencing was the culmination of a legal tangle that tied the hands of the Howard state's attorney's office and changed the way both police and prosecutors do business in Howard County.

After Williams ran into Dennis Jerry Sullivan's motorcycle on Baltimore National Pike at St. Johns Lane on Sept. 7, police, who initially thought Sullivan's injuries were not life-threatening, issued Williams a battery of citations, including one for negligent driving.

Sullivan, 42, of Ellicott City died within hours of the crash.

Prosecutors did not file paperwork to dismiss those citations in preparation for more serious charges for several weeks. By the time they did, Williams had paid the $275 negligent-driving citation, essentially pleading guilty.

Because the charge is considered a lesser form of motor vehicle homicide, constitutional protections against double jeopardy prevented prosecutors from pursuing the homicide count, which allows for a sentence of up to five years in prison.

That left the drunken-driving charge, which carries a maximum penalty of one year. Williams was convicted of driving under the influence in May.

Since Sullivan's death, police officers have stopped issuing the negligent-driving citations in drunken-driving cases involving injury, and a veteran prosecutor has been designated to screen such cases "as soon as possible," said State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone.

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