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Five years later, death ruled accident now a homicide

Police, prosecutors refuse mother's pleas to press criminal case

October 15, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Prosecutors in Carroll County, where Outside Unlimited is located, agreed with the state police that the death was an accident. Prosecutors in Frederick County reviewed the case, and they reached the same conclusion.

Still, Adrienne Miranda wasn't satisfied. She sent letters to Baltimore County prosecutors requesting a site survey to determine precisely where her son had died. The survey found he died in the back lot of the Hampstead company — in Baltimore County.

Baltimore County police opened a case in November 2007.

Police say they conducted a thorough investigation, including interviews with a list of people suggested by the mother. In January 2008, Baltimore County police detectives met with the assistant medical examiner, Ali, who told them about the reports and photographs he had received from Bachtell, the state police trooper.

In the end, Baltimore County police closed their investigation and ruled it an accident.

But Adrienne Miranda alleges that detectives actually did nothing more than a cursory review of the state police file. She notes that by then, most of the immigrant workers, including the driver Rubio, were gone.

Shellenberger, the top prosecutor in Baltimore County, would not comment for this article and referred to a statement issued by county police. The statement reiterated that Miranda "attempted to jump onto the machine while it was in operation" and "slipped and fell."

Only one authority, the assistant medical examiner, remained on the case along with Adrienne Miranda. And Ali took a new tack: He wanted to see what the driver of a Bobcat could see. So in February 2008, he visited Outside Unlimited.

With a police escort, Ali sat in the seat that Rubio had occupied in the same model Bobcat. He also spent 50 minutes watching experienced drivers maneuver the machine, to see what obstructed their view and how it turned. He determined that driver sightlines were obscured and that clues from the scene contradicted statements from witnesses.

Ali sent a letter detailing his concerns to Shellenberger, but at that time he didn't have enough to change the cause of death.

Meanwhile, Adrienne Miranda had filed a civil wrongful-death lawsuit against a long line of defendants, including the landscaping company, Godwin, Bobcat and companies that supplied parts for the machine. She settled the suit this year, the terms of which are sealed.

As part of the case, her attorney took the deposition from Godwin in September 2010.

That was the information Ali had been looking for.

The medical examiner wrote Shellenberger in June, noting the conflicting witness statements and that tire track marks in the dirt proved the Bobcat was moving backward.

He also said it would have been impossible for Miranda to slip between the narrow space between the tires without sustaining additional injuries. "His lower extremities, especially his feet, ankles, and legs would have been severely injured," Ali wrote. They weren't.

Adrienne Miranda hopes the decision to declare the death a homicide will push authorities to take another look. As of last week, she was still sending emails to the medical examiner's office, pushing, prodding for more information.

And she keeps a penny at the end of a necklace — a single coin found in her dead son's pocket — which she says she'll never take off.

She won't stop sending emails. "I will be his voice."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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