Woman cited in accident that left Hopkins cyclist in coma pays lesser fine because of police mistake

Driver who left bicyclist in coma pays $220, not $400

May 27, 2011|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore woman whose driving errors led to a crash that left bicyclist Nathan Krasnopoler in a coma with possibly permanent brain injuries has resolved the traffic charges against her by paying $220 — about half the amount she would have been fined if Baltimore police had not erred in writing the tickets.

Jeannette Marie Walke, 83, pleaded guilty May 11 to negligent driving and failure to yield right of way to a bicyclist in a designated lane. She prepaid the ticket and did not appear in court. Such charges can be resolved by sending in a standard fine by mail.

Krasnopoler, a 20-year-old Johns Hopkins University student, collided with Walke's car Feb. 26 when she turned in front of him on University Parkway near the Homewood campus. According to his family, he retains brain stem function but is not expected to regain consciousness. The Krasnopolers have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Walke.

Walke would have been fined $400 had not the police officer who wrote the tickets blundered. Police have admitted the mistake; Walke has not commented on the case.

The negligent-driving fine was assessed at $140 rather than the $280 called for under state law for cases involving a crash. On the failure-to-yield charge, she was fined $80 rather than the $120 she would have been assessed for an offense that contributed to an accident.

Terri Bolling, a spokesman for the District Courts of Maryland, said the officer wrote in the higher amounts but failed to check the boxes indicating that the case involved an accident and personal injury.

When the boxes are not checked, Bolling said, the fines default to the lower, pre-set amounts. She said the staff that enters the data into the court's electronic system is not permitted to check the boxes or correct the amounts because the tickets are legal charging documents.

Had the boxes been checked, Walke would have been assessed six points on her driving record; without the checks, it is two points, Bolling said.

Andrew G. Slutkin, the Krasnopoler family attorney who filed the civil suit, said he was surprised to learn that Walke had been assessed the lesser fines. He said that while the family did not want to see the driver jailed, they believed it was important that she be charged because they felt she was "legally and morally responsible for the collision."

"The family believes the fine should be the maximum available under the law," Slutkin said. "If anyone deserves a break, it's not this defendant."

The police error comes after the department acknowledged mishandling the case by initially saying that no charges would be brought against the driver. After a public outcry led by bicycle advocates, police investigated further and the Baltimore state's attorney's office charged Walke with the two traffic offenses.

"It is in fact an error on our part," Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said of the lesser fines.

He said the two tickets were otherwise filled out correctly, but the officers forgot to check the boxes. "It was a clerical error on the part of the officers," he said. "We take full responsibility."

Guglielmi said Col. John Skinner, the chief of patrol, would investigate how the error occurred.

"We always want to be the best we can be," Guglielmi said. "This underscores how we must invest in training. We have to make sure that we're not careless. This seems to be an oversight by not checking the box. But we hold ourselves to a very high standard."

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.


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