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Judge deliberates in case against Howard officer involved in Anne Arundel collision

AssaultTrials and ArbitrationLaw EnforcementJustice SystemVehicles

An Anne Arundel County judge heard closing arguments Wednesday in the case against a Howard County police officer charged with assault in connection with a June 2013 wrong-way collision in Anne Arundel that injured a family of four.

Circuit Court Judge Paul F. Harris Jr., who is presiding over the trial, said he will deliver his decision on June 23. 

The officer, Symchay Kon Bendu, 29, of North Laurel, faces four counts of second-degree assault, a reckless driving charge and a negligent driving charge in connection with the June 8 accident, which occurred on a one-way road that connects Route 100 eastbound to Route 10 southbound. 

The accident in question, during which Bendu's cruiser was T-boned as he attempted to make a U-turn, was preceded an hour earlier by another accident in Anne Arundel involving Bendu. In that incident, Anne Arundel County police cited the other driver at the scene and charged Bendu subsequently. The outcome of that case is still pending. 

During closing arguments Wednesday, assistant State's Attorney M. Virginia Miles argued that Bendu's previous accident, as well as a series of other choices leading up to the collision, added up to gross negligence on the part of Bendu -- the standard necessary to prove the assault charges -- and that he was in "wanton and willful disregard for human life."

Bendu's attorney, Andrew Alperstein, argued that the prosecution was "reaching" and that, while Bendu is at fault for the second accident, it does not rise to the standard of an assault conviction. 

"He made an honest mistake," Alperstein said in court. "He is wrong for the second accident. He should've seen the signs, but it's not criminal assault."

According to testimony, Bendu, who was 11 miles over the Howard County line, was patrolling on Route 100 when he crossed into Anne Arundel County and got lost.

The first accident occurred when a car behind Bendu, which Bendu said was tailgating him, tried to swerve around him in the right lane and clipped the front of the cruiser. Alperstein said Bendu testified that he put his foot on the brake, but did not decelerate the car, to signal to the driver to slow down, while the prosecution argued Bendu slowed down in an attempt to use a nearby crossover that would've taken him back to Howard County.  

After officers from Anne Arundel County responded to the first accident, Bendu, in an attempt to return to Howard County, decided to use the next crossover to get onto Route 100 westbound, according to testimony.

Despite signage and lane markings that the prosecution said were visible, Bendu did not realize that the next crossover did not lead to Route 100 westbound but actually led to Route 10 southbound. 

As Bendu pulled onto the road in the wrong direction, a 2005 Honda Civic T-boned his car. Anne Arundel County police said Bendu's error caused the collision. 

Miles argued that, after the first accident, Bendu's state of mind was altered, and that his plan to use a crossover to return to Howard County was unreasonable. She also argued that he was negligent in his decision-making, which created a chain reaction leading to the collision.

Harris said in court  that "a big problem" with the prosecution's theory is that Bendu testified it was a mistake, meaning the act is difficult to prove as intentional. 

Alperstein said there is no evidence that Bendu was in an altered state as a result of the first crash, and that the legal standard is not met since the accident was a mistake.

"He didn't want to hurt these people," Alperstein said. 

Bendu, a five-year veteran of the force, remains on administrative duty, where he has been since the crash.

Howard County police said an internal investigation would be conducted after the criminal matter is resolved.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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