Driver could have been arrested before fatal crash

Police say man fled scene of earlier accident on same day

November 12, 2008|By David Kohn | David Kohn,

The man who was involved in two crashes in less than two hours last week in Harford County, including one that killed a woman and her son, might have been arrested after the earlier collision.

Troopers acted properly in issuing summonses to Christopher H. Lentz after he allegedly failed to stop at the scene of the first accident, a state police spokeswoman said yesterday.

"They took appropriate action based on their observations at the scene," said Elena Russo, a state police spokeswoman.

Under Maryland law, leaving the scene of an accident is not a "mandatory arrestable offense," she said.

Some legal experts, however, expressed surprise yesterday that Lentz had not been arrested after he reportedly left the scene of the first accident.

"Trying to leave the scene is usually seen as a serious violation," said Dennis Kenney, a criminologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But, Kenney added, "It's always easy in hindsight to question someone's judgment."

In the first collision, which occurred about 3:30 p.m. Friday on Route 152 in Joppa, seven children in a minivan were taken to a hospital, but only for evaluation.

Lentz, 37, of Glen Arm, allegedly drove across the center line and sideswiped the minivan. He apparently drove on, but his vehicle became disabled a half-mile away, police said.

He was charged at the scene with failure to drive right of center, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, failure to give insurance information and failure to control speed to avoid a collision, police said. After the first accident, Lentz and a passenger in the van were driven from the scene by co-workers, according to state police. Lentz, an electrician, was working for Byrnes Electric Inc., a Bel Air contractor.

John Marshall, a defense lawyer in Red Bank, N.J., said police typically look at the driver's record when making a decision about whether to arrest him.

Lentz has a history of driving offenses, including a conviction for driving under the influence 13 years ago, and several speeding tickets, according to court documents. His license was suspended at least twice and revoked once.

Other experts said that if an accident caused no injuries, police generally don't make an arrest for fleeing the scene. In Lentz's first accident Friday, no one was hurt.

"Personal injury is often the demarcation," said Eugene O'Donnell, also a John Jay criminologist.

Police would not say whether Lentz had been tested for alcohol or drugs after the second accident. Results of such tests typically take a week.

About 90 minutes after the first accident, Lentz was behind the wheel of another vehicle, a 2004 Jeep Cherokee, that crashed head-on into a minivan occupied by a family from Perry Hall. Katherine Brady, 31, and her son, Wilson Brady, 8, were killed. The accident occurred on the Bel Air Bypass, a four-lane road.

Police have said they plan to charge Lentz in the second accident. Lentz remained at Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday in fair condition.

Russo said Lentz would not be jailed if he is well enough to leave the hospital before that.

Stephen Brady, 32, the minivan's driver, was in serious but stable condition yesterday at Shock Trauma. His son Ian, 2, also a passenger in the van, was released from Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Michael Loftus, the father of Katherine Brady, said he didn't blame police for not arresting Lentz after the first accident.

"Of course I'm upset, but I don't hold anything against our police officers. Our officers are trained," he said.

Loftus choked up and handed the phone to his wife, Janet Loftus, Katherine's stepmother.

"His earlier accident in the day is not the accident that took our daughter and grandson's life," she said. "We have faith in law enforcement and if they're OK with letting him go back on the road, it's not the cause of the second accident."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Lentz family released a statement, its first since the Friday night accident.

"The family and friends of Christopher Lentz have the family of the victims in their prayers," said C. Stephen Basinger, an attorney who has represented Christopher Lentz in the past.

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