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Former 98 Rock DJ pleads guilty to driving drunk

Highway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersJustice SystemRadio IndustryMaryland State Police

Stephen G. Smith, who was known as "Stash" on 98 Rock, pleaded guilty Monday morning to drunk-driving charges and was sentenced to six months in the Harford County Detention Center.

District Court Judge Susan Hazlett reduced the original one-year sentence after Smith's lawyer said Smith immediately took part in a 28-day alcohol treatment program and admits he has a drinking problem.

She also placed him on supervised probation and required him to abstain from alcohol.

Smith, a Bel Air resident, was involved in a three-car crash at Route 24 near the I-95 intersection July 22 that sent five people to the hospital with minor injuries.

As a result of the charges, he was fired from 98 Rock after more than 20 years working in radio.

On the night of July 22, Smith tried to throw a can of Four Loko, a controversial alcoholic beverage, out of his car and denied having alcohol in the car before eventually admitting to it, Assistant State's Attorney Trenna Manners said.

"What we have here is a string of horrific decision-making," Manners said, citing his traffic history, including 56 payable tickets and a marijuana arrest.

Hazlett called his record "lousy," noting 32 prior convictions for traffic offenses.

Smith's lawyer, Leonard Shapiro, said his client had done a lot of good in the community, including charity through the radio station, and is committed to turning his life around.

"He loved his job and a lot of people liked him and followed him," Shapiro said. "Whether he can resurrect that or not remains to be seen."

Shapiro said Smith, who has five children with his wife, relapsed into drinking from the stress of dealing with his severely autistic son.

On the night of the accident, Smith's wife found him intoxicated at home and told him to leave the house, which is when he drove off, Shapiro said.

"He has made a complete mess of everything and he knows that, and he could have hurt other people," Shapiro said.

Smith appeared contrite and personally apologized to the victims of the crash, who were sitting behind him.

"Alcohol has taken over my life," he told them, apologizing for making it part of their lives, too.

"I apologize deeply to you and I think about it every day," he said of the crash. "I apologize to my family with all the publicity that was involved."

The victims of the accident told the court the crash was far from "minor" and hoped Smith would be prevented from hurting others in the future.

They noted he did not have car insurance at the time of the crash.

Joshua Stavrakoglou, of Baltimore, said his car was hit so hard the trunk ripped a hole in his pants and he was "almost completely crushed in."

He said the anxiety he suffers as a disabled combat veteran was exacerbated by the accident.

Despite being out of work and facing a divorce, "I am still not going out and getting drunk," Stavrakoglou said.

Heather Manto, of Baltimore, said she suffered a broken nose, misaligned jaw, concussion and slipped disc.

She said she is also a disabled veteran and a single mother, and is contemplating filing for bankruptcy as a result of the accident.

"I don't doubt that [Smith] is a great man and a great father but he makes poor choices," she said. "I also think he needs to learn. I don't think another break is going to help him learn his lesson."

Harvey Dail, of Abingdon, said his seizures have increased since the accident, but added: "I understand Mr. Smith has done a lot of good in the community and I do appreciate his apology."

Kathy Cottrell, of Bel Air, said she could not work for five weeks after the accident and the financial burden has been "outrageous."

"I feel bad for his family, I really do. But I am also afraid that if he is allowed to be on the roads again, he could kill somebody," she said.

Hazlett said she did appreciate that Smith volunteered for the rehabilitation program and noted that Smith has benefited from "very good legal advice."

"In my experience in 22 years in the legal justice arena, sometimes it takes a while for someone to get it," Hazlett said. "I hope your family is safe and I hope you make better choices."

She also agreed to make him eligible for work release.

"Given the picture of this accident, you are very fortunate that no one was more seriously hurt. You are fortunate that you are here," she said. "You could have killed someone that night."

In March, Smith was found guilty in Harford County Circuit Court of speeding and fined $90.

In October 2011, Smith was charged in Baltimore County with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving an unsafe vehicle on a highway, negligent driving and other offenses. He was found guilty of negligent driving and given probation before judgment on the driving while impaired charge. The other charges were dropped.

The Maryland State Police and the Harford County Sheriff's Office have targeted the Route 24 corridor as part of a combined traffic enforcement initiative. The effort grew from an increase in crashes and reports of dangerous driving in the area.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Highway and Road DisastersTransportation DisastersJustice SystemRadio IndustryMaryland State Police
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