Driver is charged in Harford collision that killed 2

November 14, 2008|By David Kohn | David Kohn,david.kohn@baltsun.com

A man who was behind the wheel of a sport utility vehicle that crossed a Harford County highway in a head-on crash that killed a mother and her son last week was charged yesterday with manslaughter.

Christopher H. Lentz was driving 75 mph on the shoulder of the Bel Air Bypass in the moments before the crash, according to charging documents released last night. A witness told police that the brake lights on Lentz's vehicle never came on as he crossed into oncoming traffic, the documents state.

Also, investigators found drugs used to treat narcotics addiction in Lentz's vehicle, according to a state police report.Lentz, 37, was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter. Those charges came a day after he was released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he had been treated since the crash last Friday. State troopers arrested him late yesterday afternoon at his home in the 5600 block of Bell Gwynn Lane in the Glen Arm area of Baltimore County.

Police, while saying they expected to charge Lentz, had said that the investigation might take as long as 90 days. Last night, a spokeswoman explained the decision to file charges even as the investigation continues.

"The Maryland State Police felt there was a concern for public safety, that he would get back out on the road and create the same problems," spokeswoman Elena Russo said.

Lentz was taken to the state police Bel Air barracks for processing and then transported about 7 p.m. to the Harford County Detention Center to await an initial appearance before a court commissioner. Lentz arrived with a brace on one arm and his jaw wired shut. He will be housed in either the medical or isolation unit at the jail.

A bail review hearing is expected to be held today.

The vehicular manslaughter charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, according to state police.

Lentz - who has a history of drug convictions and driving violations, including a conviction for driving under the influence 13 years ago - was behind the wheel of a 2004 Jeep Cherokee that crossed the center line and crashed into a minivan occupied by a Perry Hall family about 5 p.m. Nov. 7 on the Bel Air Bypass, police said.

Katherine Brady, 31, and her son, Wilson Brady, 8, were killed. Stephen Brady, 32, the driver of the minvan, had been hospitalized at Shock Trauma but was released yesterday. The couple's 2-year-old son, Ian Brady, was also injured in the crash.

Lentz was driving 25 mph over the speed limit on the southbound shoulder before the crash, according to charging documents. A witness who told police that he swerved to avoid Lentz as he came across traffic estimated that Lentz's Jeep Cherokee was traveling 60 mph to 65 mph when the collision occurred, the documents state.

According to police, the impact sent the Bradys' Saturn Relay minivan backward and into another van behind it.

The charging document does not address whether Lentz was intoxicated.

Police tried to interview Lentz at Shock Trauma, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refused to talk, according to the documents.

Police found a bottle of Suboxone - a brand-name version of the drug buprenorphine, widely known as "bupe" - on the driver's side front seat of Lentz's vehicle after the accident, according to a report.

The drug can cause drowsiness and slow reactions, according to the Suboxone Web site, which adds that "caution should be exercised when driving cars or operating machinery" while on the medication.

Lentz had been involved in a crash less than two hours before the fatal collision. In the earlier crash, he crossed the center line of Route 152 in Joppa in a work van and sideswiped another vehicle, and was found about a half-mile away after the van became disabled, police said.

Lentz was charged then with failure to stop at the scene of an accident and other violations. After that collision, Lentz and a passenger in the van were driven from the scene by co-workers, according to state police.

He could have been arrested after that collision. Troopers acted properly in issuing a summons to Lentz, Russo has said. She said troopers at that crash saw no indication that Lentz was under the influence of alcohol, and that troopers do not generally do a full check of a driver's record in such cases. Troopers normally check to see whether a person is wanted for arrest, and Lentz was not.

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