Judge injured by drunken driver again facing man in court

April 10, 2010|By Dan Morse | The Washington Post

The driver swerved his Chevy Tahoe into oncoming traffic about 3 p.m.

"He's going to hit us!" Ellen Collier told her husband, Edwin, who was driving their 2001 Honda Accord that day last August.

The strange circumstances took longer to sort out: The Honda's driver, retired Montgomery County District Judge Edwin Collier, had presided over thousands of drunken-driving cases, including one in 1998 involving the Tahoe's driver. Collier had spared him jail time, even though the man had been arrested on drinking-and-driving charges twice in three months.

"It's just a total irony," John Kudel, an attorney for the Colliers, said Friday. "This shouldn't happen to anyone. It certainly shouldn't have happened to them."

In the latest case, the man driving the Tahoe - Rene E. Fernandez, 45 - is due in court Wednesday to face trial on eight charges related to the August crash, including causing life-threatening injuries while intoxicated.

Ellen Collier, now 82, suffered a compound leg fracture, fractured ribs, a fractured hip and neck injuries. She has had five operations, including one to fuse vertebrae in her neck, and must use a walker. Edwin Collier, 86, who was brought back to hear cases as recently as last year, suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs. He must use a cane.

The diminished mobility forced the couple to move to a retirement community from their home in Bethesda. "Their whole life has changed irreparably," Kudel said

Fernandez was barely hurt. He walked about in flip-flops, grinned and seemed unconcerned about the Colliers' injuries as other motorists rushed to their aid, according to Montgomery police reports.

Fernandez was tested at more than twice the legal limit for alcohol, the reports say.

His attorney, John Severt, declined to comment. Kudel said the Colliers did not want to be interviewed for this article.

In 1998, Fernandez was a 33-year-old employee of a restaurant in Gaithersburg. About 2 a.m. Jan. 21, a police officer saw him make an errant right turn in a station wagon, spin out of control and stop. At a police station, Fernandez's blood-alcohol level registered 0.14, over the legal limit.

Three months later, at 1 a.m., Fernandez was again charged with drunken driving after an officer saw his car idling in a parking lot and gave him a sobriety test.

The first case went before Judge Stephen P. Johnson on June 15. Fernandez pleaded guilty to drinking and driving. Three months later, Fernandez went before Collier in the parking lot case and pleaded guilty.

Kudel said Collier doesn't remember the 1998 case and until recently wasn't aware of it. "He doesn't harbor any ill will toward Mr. Fernandez," Kudel said.

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