Former football star gets 18 months for drunk-driving death

17-year-old victim was family friend

August 05, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

A 23-year-old former River Hill High School football star was sent to jail for 18 months Thursday for the November death of a 17-year-old friend in a drunk-driving accident that has torn two Howard County families apart.

Described as a "gentle giant," a 6-foot-4-inch, 320-pound David Erdman of Ellicott City bowed his head and cried along with the mother of his victim. He had pleaded guilty in May to negligent homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Steven Dankos died early in the morning of Nov. 30 when the pickup truck Erdman was driving after a round of post-football-game parties ran off Folly Quarter Road and hit several stone pillars. Dankos had been riding in the truck's bed. Erdman's younger brother Thomas — Dankos' best friend — was in the front seat.

Erdman's blood-alcohol level after the accident measured 0.21 percent, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08. He, his younger brother and Dankos had been drinking at parties, some held in homes where the teens' parents allowed it.

"I should have been the role model," Erdman said in court, turning to Nancy Davis, Dankos' mother, to his own family and to the 20 people who attended to support both families. "I'm apologizing to Miss Nancy.

"I can't understand why it all happened," he said as Davis and his own mother, Wanda Erdman, sobbed. "It doesn't have to happen. You don't have to go with the pressures they put on you."

Erdman hasn't had a drink since that night, his attorney, Jeff Harding, told Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure, and has completed a 25-day outpatient alcohol abuse program. Leasure sentenced him to five years, but suspended all but 18 months in the Howard County Detention Center, with a recommendation that he be considered for work release. Prosecutor Danielle M. Duclaux had asked for such a sentence. Harding had requested one year of home detention for Erdman.

Duclaux said earlier that the tragedy could have been avoided if the parents of partiers had not allowed underage teens to drink in their homes, much less drive. In addition, Erdman could have accepted an offer from another friend to drive him and his friends home, and she said the crash might not have happened at a lower speed. Police found the truck had been speeding on the rural roadway at the moment of the crash.

"These cases are always very hard," Duclaux told the judge, "because the defendant sitting there is not really a bad person."

Davis earlier delivered an emotional victim impact statement in which she said, "Steven was my first-born child, the light of my life." Davis has two younger children, but "with Steven's death my heart is not only broken, but shattered." Continuing, she told Leasure that "he was my soul mate. Steven was my star. Each day [without him] is a living hell."

What's worse, she said, is that he idolized David Erdman, who was an All-American player at Wesley College in Delaware after high school.

"I cannot hate you," Davis said to Erdman, but added that she envied him and his brother, who still often comes to her home to mourn, for being still alive and having long lives ahead.

Wanda Erdman was no less emotional, telling Leasure, "He struggles every moment of every day.

"He can't look at his younger brother," she said. "I can't tell you how much I miss Steven as well," she said.

Davis became so overwrought that she had to leave the courtroom, delaying the sentencing. Lynn Doyle, who is her sister and Dankos' aunt, embraced Wanda Erdman. Both were in tears as the group waited for the hearing to resume.

Erdman's college football coach and his employer both came to speak about his better qualities, but Leasure rejected the request for home detention as too little punishment, though she acknowledged Erdman's emotional torment.

"The greatest punishment is living with this every day knowing that a life was lost," she said, adding that she knew Erdman was "completely remorseful."

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