Road To Ruin

Before Thomas Meighan Jr.'s Name Was Ever Linked To A Fatal Hit-and-run Of A Johns Hopkins Student, His Actions And Correspondence With The Courts Showed A Pattern Of Self-destruction And Wasted Second Chances

November 01, 2009|By Tricia Bishop, Robert Little and Don Markus | Tricia Bishop, Robert Little and Don Markus,Tricia.bishop@baltsun.com, Robert.little@baltsun.com and Don.Markus@baltsun.com

Thomas Meighan Jr. was well-acquainted with accusations of recklessness and dangerous driving, long before Baltimore police charged him with a string of traffic offenses related to the hit-and-run death of a Johns Hopkins University student two weeks ago.

He got his first traffic ticket before he even had a driver's license, for speeding and driving without supervision on a learner's permit when he was 17. Within a year, his license was revoked, the first churn in a cycle that would continue for the next two decades.

In one 15-year span, he was found guilty of at least nine drunken-driving offenses, compounding a record that includes convictions for marijuana possession, battery, disorderly conduct, theft and escape from a half-way house. Last year, his wife filed a domestic violence claim against him, saying he got drunk and threatened to kill her.

The traffic violations lodged against him Oct. 24, linked to the hit-and-run eight days earlier that killed 20-year-old Miriam Frankl on St. Paul Street, were filed based on witness accounts of a white Ford truck's menacing rampage through Baltimore. They don't include any drinking offenses. And Meighan, who turned himself in for questioning, says he wasn't on the road that day.

Still, according to interviews with some who know him, and a review of the dozens of court files in and around Baltimore, much of Meighan's adult life has been defined by an addiction to alcohol and drugs.

"Alcohol has all but destroyed my life," he wrote in an undated letter to one judge.

In total, Thomas Meighan has been sentenced to at least 10 years in jail, though half of those were suspended.

And when he wasn't in jail, court records show, Meighan regularly missed court dates, sometimes phoning in last-minute excuses about kidney stones or a car on fire.

When he was locked up, he frequently pleaded for leniency. Initially, judges offered Meighan a host of second chances, such as suspended sentences or early release for substance abuse treatment, court records show. But he squandered them and was rarely out of trouble for more than a few months.

The sometimes-emotional letters he scrawled to judges show Meighan to be a man in constant battle with himself, always promising to do better but repeatedly failing. He describes himself as a slave to his alcohol and drug addictions - once asking a judge to send him to a rehabilitation center rather than release him back to the streets.

"Sir, I'm writing you to inform you of my desperate need to save my own life," he wrote in one letter. "I've been fighting this fatal disease of alcoholism and drug abuse for years now."

This summer, he was arrested in Northwest Baltimore on hit-and-run and drunken-driving charges. He was free on $100,000 bail on Oct. 16, the day a white pickup truck hit Frankl and drove off.

Karon Meighan, who has been married to Meighan for 12 years but separated for nearly a year, said when she heard about the vehicle sought in Frankl's death, she immediately thought of her estranged husband.

His drinking "was like a time bomb," she said. "It was ticking."

Early brushes with the law

Thomas Meighan Jr. was born in 1970 in Hollywood, Fla., but lived much of his life in or around Mount Airy, at the convergence of Carroll and Frederick counties. Court records show a succession of addresses there, scattered throughout the area's rolling green and rural landscape.

Not much is publicly known about his early life. His parents split when he was young. His father, who lives in North Carolina, declined to be interviewed for this article. His mother, who lives in Sykesville, couldn't be reached. And his new fiancee, who's reportedly known him since the fifth grade, told a reporter last week to get off her Elkridge property or she would call police.

Meighan had only made it through the 10th grade, though he later earned a GED, a public defender said.

Meighan got his first motor vehicle infractions right around the time he left high school, when he was 17. He was caught driving without a license four times within three months, the start of what would become a lifelong parry with the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

During the next seven years, before he got his first DWI, Meighan's license was taken and returned more than a half-dozen times, according to MVA records. He was ticketed for offenses including speeding and failing to stop after hitting a parked car.

A former girlfriend recalls meeting him shortly after she graduated from high school, and he was 20 and working as a roofer. She was smitten by his good looks and fit, 6-foot, 3-inch frame.

She says he crashed her Camaro into a tree, less than a mile from her house, waking her up and tearfully apologizing. "You could tell he was drunk," said the 36-year-old woman, who asked that her name be withheld because she remains wary of him.

She knew he already had issues with alcohol. He drank by himself, mostly beer and whiskey, and got aggressive afterward, she said.

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