Soaring heavenward

Memorial: Balloons carry grief and a message about a drunken-driving fatality.

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

Nelson Sullivan Jr. watched wistfully last night as the red, helium-filled balloons -- with his brother Dennis' picture and life story attached -- floated away in a gentle breeze.

He watched as they cleared power lines. He kept his gaze fixed as they soared higher, growing smaller.

It has been a tough year, he said, since the death of his brother, a motorcyclist hit by a drunken driver.

"I wish he was here to see them go," he said, his eyes still trained on the balloons.

Around him at the Shell gasoline station on Baltimore National Pike at St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City, friends and family members -- all still in mourning for 42-year-old Dennis Jerry Sullivan -- released their balloons as well.

The hope, said Dennis' sister, Debbie Sullivan Adams, was that the message of his life and the legal chaos that followed his death Sept. 7, 2003, would reach others.

The site of their vigil and balloon remembrance was a few feet from where a car slammed into the back of his Kawasaki motorcycle.

There was only a smattering of talk about the complicated legal tangle that had consumed the family for months -- how before prosecutors could drop the charge, the driver, 35-year-old Susan Elizabeth Williams, had paid a fine for a negligent driving ticket stemming from the incident.

Because of constitutional protections against being tried twice for the same crime, prosecutors were barred from pursuing motor vehicle homicide charges against her. Negligent driving is considered a lesser form of the homicide charge.

As a result, Williams was convicted only of driving under the influence and sentenced in July to one year in jail.

After watching that drama unfold in Howard Circuit Court, Dennis Sullivan's family preferred yesterday to talk about the man they loved -- a mechanic from Ellicott City, father of two and a grandfather. He was a kind man, one who loved his family and the outdoors and riding his motorcycle, they said.

"We're all getting through it together," said Christi Sullivan, the wife of Nelson Sullivan Jr. "We talk about Dennis. It just feels good to keep [his memory] alive."

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