Grand jury declines to charge driver in cyclist death

Death of Trish Cunningham, track coach, outraged cyclists

November 22, 2013|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

A driver who struck and killed a bicyclist in Davidsonville in August will not face criminal manslaughter charges, an Anne Arundel County grand jury decided on Friday.

Whitney Decesaris, 37, of Calvert County, will instead be cited for four traffic violations in the death of Trish Cunningham, 50, an assistant track and field and cross country coach at Annapolis High School.

"I'm very disappointed," said Cunningham's daughter, Morgan, 21. "I just hoped [her death] would mean more than four traffic tickets."

Cunningham's death sparked outrage among cyclists, who held a memorial ride and sent about 300 letters and emails to State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess urging criminal charges against Decesaris.

Leitess brought the case before a grand jury, which rejected criminal charges. To charge her, the State's Attorney's office said, the jury would have to have found that Decesaris drove in a way that grossly deviated from the standard amount of care a reasonable person would use under the circumstances.

The charge is relatively new, created in 2011 as a middle ground between felony auto manslaughter, which is difficult to prove, and lesser traffic charges. But prosecutors have not always been successful winning convictions with the new charge either.

Cunningham, who lived in Annapolis, was cycling south on Riva Road on Aug. 21 when she was struck by a Honda Odyssey driven by Decesaris. She was a wife and mother of three and an avid runner.

Leitess said in a statement that Cunningham's loss was tragic for her friends, family and the community. She added that the new manslaughter charge specifically excludes acts of ordinary negligence and that she and the Maryland State's Attorney's Association have sponsored and lobbied for "a more appropriate legal standard of proof."

Anne Arundel County police will cite Decesaris for four traffic violations, each carrying a maximum $500 fine: failure to exercise care to avoid a collision with a bicyclist; driving left of roadway center and overtaking and passing unsafely; negligent driving endangering property of life, and failure to control speed to avoid a collision.

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