Drag-race spectator killed in crash was standing in road, expert tells court

But witness concedes victim could have been running for his life; double-homicide trial of driver, Donneil Raeburn, expected to end Friday

March 31, 2011|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

One of two spectators killed in a 2009 drag-racing accident on Interstate 70 was standing in a traffic lane, and not on the shoulder, an accident-reconstruction expert said Thursday in the driver's double-homicide trial.

But under cross-examination from a prosecutor in Baltimore County Circuit Court, the defense's witness, Sal Fariello, conceded that the man could have been running from the car bearing down on him at about 84 mph. The victim was Jonathan Henderson, 20, who was struck and killed, as was his friend, Mary-Kathryn Abernathy, 21, who had been standing nearby as they watched an early-morning drag race near Security Boulevard in Woodlawn on June 21, 2009. Police investigators reported at the time that both victims had been on the side of the road.

Prosecutors say that Donneil Raeburn, 27, caused the crash when, inebriated, he lost control of his Chevrolet Impala and left the road, striking the spectators and a parked car. Raeburn, who was found to have more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, was indicted on 17 counts, including negligent homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol. He too was injured in the crash, the scars on this head clearly visible almost two years later as he sat, his legs shackled, at the defense table. His bench trial began Tuesday and was expected to conclude Friday.

The expert witness said that from his examination of police reports, skid marks, the Impala's "black box" data recorder and autopsy findings, it was clear that not only was Henderson struck in the road — which might lessen the defendant's culpability in at least one of the deaths — but that Raeburn swung his steering wheel abruptly to the right just before the accident "in response to something" in the road.

The obstruction was most likely another car making a U-turn, Fariello said, basing his conclusion on another set of skid marks. The accident happened so quickly, he said, that Raeburn had no time to apply his brakes.

The suggestion that a car turning in front of Raeburn's caused him to crash was seconded by another defense witness, Michael T. Ewell, 45, who had been driving west on I-70 that night on his way home to Martinsburg, W.Va., and reported seeing "50 to 100 cars" parked on either side of the road. He said he saw a car ahead of him make a "quick turn," heard squealing tires and then a loud crash.

Pulling up to the scene, Ewell said, "there was a young man lying in the road," and he recalled using his car as a shield so that no other driver would hit the fatally injured victim.


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