Man pleads guilty in 2005 crash deaths

Mothers of 2 victims say outcome provides closure

May 13, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

Speeding from police in a stolen BMW with stolen plasma televisions and money, Stephan Vaughn Jr. tore through two Baltimore mothers' lives last July, taking from each her only son.

Debbie Jurkiewicz was about to step out of her home in Highlandtown at 7 a.m. when the police officer approached her, asked to come inside, asked her to sit down. Denis Jurkiewicz Jr., 24, had died in a car crash hours earlier as he was driving to his parents' house after work.

Margie Robinson learned about the crash that afternoon, as she dropped her daughter in the West Baltimore neighborhood where the children's father and grandmother lived. People stood in the street, staring at Robinson, asking if she knew where her son was. Avon Hollman, 15, had been a passenger in the BMW.

Jurkiewicz and Hollman were killed instantly in a collision so forceful that police calculated the BMW as speeding between 70 mph and 88 mph. Vaughn, the driver, was not seriously injured. He ran from the scene in Washington Hill and forced his way into an apartment building, where police found him hiding.

Vaughn, 28, of the 400 block of Frankford Ave. in Northeast Baltimore pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court to two counts of vehicular manslaughter and an array of other crimes that occurred before and after the fatal crash. He was sentenced to a prison term of 20 years.

Both mothers came to court to talk about the pain of losing their sons. In the hallway outside the courtroom, the prosecutor said, the two met for the first time, embraced and wept together.

"Here were two very different people with very different Baltimore experiences coming together to share their unbearable hurt," said Assistant State's Attorney Theresa M. Shaffer, who prosecuted Vaughn.

Vaughn began tearing his path of crime through Baltimore the day before the mothers lost their sons. A Johns Hopkins University student called police to report that his BMW 325I had been stolen from Park Avenue in Bolton Hill.

Then, in the early hours of July 29, the Red Fish restaurant at the Can Company in Canton was burglarized. Police said three flat-screen plasma televisions and two cash drawers were stolen and loaded into the BMW.

Just before 5 a.m. police officers in a marked squad car spotted a BMW speeding at as much as 100 mph through Washington Hill, running red lights. The officers switched on lights and sirens and pursued.

The BMW collided with Jurkiewicz's Mitsubishi Galant at Broadway and Baltimore Street, and both struck a parked car and a tree. The televisions crumpled Hollman's body in the passenger's seat. Vaughn ran into an apartment building, forcing his way into two apartments before police arrested him.

Hollman's involvement in Vaughn's crimes is unclear. Vaughn said in court that the teen-ager had been with him during the Red Fish burglary, but there is no evidence to support that claim, said Shaffer, the prosecutor.

Still, Debbie Jurkiewicz said she was apprehensive about meeting Hollman's family yesterday.

"I was angry at the boy's family, too," she said. "But we met. And they're victims, too."

Robinson dressed for court in a white T-shirt bearing her son's photograph, name and dates of birth and death. She said she was taken aback by how many of Jurkiewicz's relatives packed the courtroom benches.

"It made me feel good to see how a family like that sticks together," she said.

Robinson and Jurkiewicz wrote down their thoughts to share with the courtroom.

"Avon was a caring and compassionate young man. He had courage and strength that made it possible for him to keep going despite the odds against him," Robinson said she wanted the court to know.

"He was always Little Denis to us. Even though he was 24 and had grown into a man, we still called our son Little Denis. His big beautiful green eyes and wonderful smile melted your heart," Jurkiewicz's statement said.

Circuit Judge Alfred Nance agreed to the plea arrangement and imposed a sentence of 55 years in prison, with all but 20 years suspended. Vaughn may face more prison time from probation violations because, though he doesn't have a driver's license, he does have a history of stealing cars in Baltimore County, Shaffer said.

After yesterday's hearing, the mothers and other relatives continued to talk about the lost young men.

Friends called Denis Jurkiewicz "Jurk," a nickname he displayed on the personalized license plate of his Galant. It was an odd nickname, said Chris Wiley, his best friend since childhood, because he was so kind.

Jurkiewicz graduated from Polytechnic Institute, which now has a scholarship in his honor, and earned his bachelor's degree in finance and marketing from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He moved back into his parent's Highlandtown home to take it easy for a few years before starting a career, his mother said. He was a godfather to his 28-year-old sister's firstborn son.

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