The death of a man who was run over and killed by a piece of machinery five years ago has now been ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner's office, overturning an earlier finding that the death was an accident. However, Baltimore County authorities said they have no plans to file charges.
Police and prosecutors from as many as four jurisdictions independently investigated the death and came to the same conclusion: that the driver of the Bobcat front-loader did not see Joseph A. Miranda when the machine crushed the 19-year-old with its wheels.
"The incident didn't rise to the level of a crime," Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said Wednesday. "We found no evidence of criminal intent. We also found no evidence of criminal negligence."
But Chief Medical Examiner David R. Fowler said the victim's mother recently brought him new information — a deposition from a witness in a civil lawsuit that contradicts statements made to police.
The cause of death had been listed as "undetermined." With the new details, Fowler said, his office "re-evaluated all of our original conclusions" and ruled the incident a homicide.
Miranda, who lived in Lutherville, was killed July 20, 2006, at Outside Unlimited, a landscaping company in the 4100 block of St. Paul Road. Police said at the time that Miranda stepped onto the front of the machine as it was backing up, then stepped off and fell between the two left wheels. Police said the driver was looking to the rear and never saw Miranda step off.
The case has been mired in controversy that began with a dispute over jurisdiction. Maryland State Police investigated first, believing that the incident had occurred in Hampstead, in Carroll County. State police and the Carroll County state's attorney decided that Miranda's death was an accident.
Miranda's family then asked authorities in Frederick County for an independent review. Those officials also ruled the death an accident. Relatives again protested, and Shellenberger said it was eventually determined that Miranda had been killed in Baltimore County.
Police and prosecutors again ruled Miranda's death an accident. Meanwhile, Miranda's parents sued the landscaping company, and Fowler used new information from that case to change the cause of death, forcing Baltimore County police to list Miranda as the county's 18th homicide victim of 2011.
Miranda's relatives could not be reached for comment, and their attorney did not return phone calls. The man who was driving the loader is no longer in the country.
Shellenberger and Fowler said they do not think their findings are inconsistent. Homicide, by definition, is a "death at the hands of another" and does not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed.
Fatal shootings that are found to be justified, for example, such as those by police or store owners fending off robbers, are ruled homicides by the medical examiner, but might not be pursued as crimes by prosecutors.
"There frequently are differences between a medical ruling and a legal ruling," Fowler said.
Fowler said the witness in the civil case, the only other person present at the time, said the Bobcat had gone forward, then backward, "and at some stage the man jumped into the bucket and attempted to pull the driver out of the vehicle."
Fowler said that account conflicts with the driver's statement, which was taken shortly after the incident.
According to the medical examiner, initial reports said the victim fell between the wheels, but Miranda's only injuries were to his head.
"The chances of an individual falling between the wheels of a vehicle and not having injuries to the legs, abdomen and chest are slim," Fowler said.
The civil suit filed by the family in Baltimore County Circuit Court is pending.