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Death of Courtney Brooks

I've been in a lot of courtrooms but never had I experienced the level of detail evident in yesterday's plea hearing for the woman who ran over Maryland Transportation Authority Police Cpl. Courtney G. Brooks.

The suspect, Kerri J. King, a dancer on Baltimore's Block where she used the name Precious, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol. She got the maximum 10 years on the manslaughter charge, five years out of a possible 10 for leaving the scene of the accident and one year on the driving under the influence.

The DUI charge actually stemmed from a different incident that occurred three months before the officer was struck on Dec. 31, 2007, while directing traffic on I-95 away from the city 20 minutes before the New Year's fireworks started. King had been pulled over, ironically just a few hundred yards from where she later hit the officer, on I-395 on Sept. 27, 2007. Her blood alcohol level was measured at .12 percent that night, far above the .08 legal limit.

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Prosecutors didn't pursue the DUI charged filed in connection with the later crash involving Brooks because, by the time they arrested her more than seven hours after the incident, her blood alcohol content measured .05. That's quite an accomplished night of drinking if you can still be near the legal limit after having stopped drinking for seven hours. Prosecutors said she started downing vodka around noon on Dec. 31 and drank continuously for 11 hours. They estimated that based on her body weight and height that when she hit Brooks she probably would've blown a 1.7 on the breathalyzer. That's not a typo. And yes, that's nearly comatose.

Assistant State's Attorney Thresa Shaffer is assigned to the homicide unit and is nothing but thorough. Normally at plea agreements, the prosecutor reads a statement of facts to which the defendant must agree before the judge accepts the plea. Shaffer read the most detailed account I've ever heard, spending 45 minutes recounting the events on on that fateful day for both Brooks and King. The officer got up and went to work. King got up, went to a strip club with a bottle of booze and partied.

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The details are in today's print column; Shaffer deliberately contrasted the officer's day with that of King. She included what they were wearing -- Brooks his pressed uniform, King a revealing T-shirt and pajama bottoms.

Brooks had a hard and not very exciting job that New Year's Eve night. With thousands of people at the Inner Harbor, the city barred trucks from entering downtown. Brooks had to make sure that truckers didn't get off I-95 onto I-395, the spur that ends near Camden Yards and turns into city streets. Brooks relieved a tired colleague and stood in a wide section of the highway between the three-lane exit to I-395 and three lanes of northbound I-95. Police had set up 16 flares in groups of four, shaped like Vs, and had a truck that Shaffer said "was lit up like a Christmas tree."

Brooks' job was to make sure the flares stayed lit, which meant standing on the highway as cars sped by.

King had finished her night of partying -- she was tossed from a strip club where she tried to dance because she threw up and fell down on the floor -- and was thrown out of a pizza restaurant at the Inner Harbor because she was loud and obnoxious. I'm guessing the threshhold is quite a bit lower at Chez Joey than at Chicago Uno, but nonetheless, you'd have to be really drunk to get ejected from a strip club on The Block. She then got her car from a downtown garage, and was caught on video throwing up on a pay machine. The attendant had to help her.

King then got onto I-95, where it was revealed for the first time yesterday that an off-duty Maryland State trooper on his way home from work noticed her driving eratically and pulled up beside her on the highway. He stayed with her for a few minutes but couldn't detect anything wrong and pulled away, continuing northbound on I-95. King, realizing she was about to get off at I-395, veered to the left to stay on the highway. She crossed the area where Brooks was standing, running over the flares and hitting the officer, sending him flying 71.9 feet across the highway.

She tapped her brakes and continued driving through the toll, back into the city and then to her home in Elkton using local roads, afraid that going through more tolls would lead to her arrest. She was right; a man driving home to New Jersey had chased her down, got her license plate and told police, but after she had gone through the first toll. King called a friend to get directions to Elkton, stopped near a city church to inspect the damage to her Ford Explorer, called her son and was overheard by his friends saying she had done something really bad, stopped for cigarettes at a Royal Farms store, where a surveillance cameras caught her damaged vehicle and then abadoned the SUV at a truck stop. Truckers called police after seeing the car and hearing news reports of the accident. Police arrested her at her home shortly after 7 a.m. on Jan. 1.

It was clear that police had conducted a thorough investigation, tracking King through her day of drinking and her escape using cellphone records, video surveillance and interviews with everyone from a toll collector (she paid a $2 toll with a $50 bill); to the parking garage attendant who had to clean up her vommit from a machine.

Shaffer even had video of King throwing up while sitting in a bathroom on the second floor of Chez Joey strip club on The Block. The bathroom doors are open to discourage drug use and sex acts, but who knew there's actual video of strippers going to the toilet? Surveillance cameras really are everywhere! Shaffer spared the court a public viewing.

Shaffer even found a woman, who she described as a "church lady" who saw King inspect her damaged car after the accident on a street outside a church after midnight mass.

What I left out of the print column was Brooks' family. His grandmother spoke, as did his uncle (who also was his godfather), his sister and fiancee. We had covered much of that ground in earlier stories from the funeral, but I'll say here that the speeches were from the heart. They described Brooks as a prankster -- before leaving his post for the night, he left everything on in his cruiser, from the lights to the blaring stereo to the wiper blades, never failing to scare the next occupant).

A dozen Maryland Transportation Authority officers packed the courtroom, including the chief, Marcus Brown, but they chose to remain silent when it came time to address the court. The family said it all. Brooks' sister, Kelly Tucker, could barely get out a handful of words -- "It's been hard," she sobbed -- forcing Shaffer, the prosecutor, to take over and read her lengthy statement.

In it, Tucker had written about the man she knew as "Spankey," about how he helped her with his children, was always there for late night phone calls: "He was the person I called when I need to laugh," she said. Brooks wrote private poems for his family and took the family photographs. He was about to marry his girlfriend of nine years, Susan Geisler, (in the photo to the left) with whom he had two children, now ages 3 and 4. He had a teenager daughter from an earlier marriage, and he never got to see her graduate from high school. Shaffer told the court that his devotion to family was so strong that he proposed in the cemetery where his parents are buried and had planned to marry in the church his grandparents attend.

I think Tucker summed it up best: "He was just a great person to have in your life."

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She turned to King, who never uttered a word through the hearing, "He will be missed, and all because someone did not care to not drink and drive."

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Brooks' uncle and godfather, Derrick Brooks, told the court, "I don't know if any amount of time will satisfy us at this point."

Shaffer, the prosecutor, sent me an email this morning with a bit more about Brooks:

Officer Brooks grew up in NE Baltimore in a neighborhood off of
Northern Parkway
and The Alameda. Both he and his sister attended parochial schools (St. Matthews) until he joined the Army and became a military police. After his honorable discharge, he began his career with the Transporation Authority.

 

When I called his sister Kelly, to get this information for you, she asked me about the children of Kerri King. This is in keeping with the family’s concern from the beginning. She was sorry that the defendant’s children were in separate foster homes. FYI—The King children have been in foster care three times previously, according to information from MTA investigators.

Shaffer also sent me a copy of the notes she used when she read her statement of facts. It's not written in story-form, but we don't often unedited notes from prosecutors in such a signficant case. It's a rare opportunity and makes for interesting reading, though I warn you, many parts are mere fragments:

This case is  the story of Officer Courtney Brooks and Miss Kerri King, and how they spent their respective  New Year's Eves,  last year, on December 31st, 2007, a day when their very different worlds collided, literally, at 11:17 p.m. on Interstate 95 northbound at Exit 53.

Courtney Brooks was a 40 year old police office. He worked for the Maryland Transportation Authority in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Unit. He enjoyed his work and felt as if he was contributing to our nation's security, especially after. Friends and family sometimes called him "Spanky"

Kerri King is a thirty- five (35) year old exotic dancer. She was a freelancer for some of small clubs on Baltimore St. She sometimes used the name "Precious King" and was known by her friends professionally by the name "Defiant"

Courtney Brooks was a father to Casey, his 17 yr old daughter from his first marriage to Cabrina Sutton. He was also  father to a four yr old  son  Blake, (born 6-23-03); and to two yr old Regan (born 8-25-05)  his children by his partner, lover, friend  and fiancée Susan Geisler, with whom he had maintained an intimate monogamous relationship since 2000.

Kerri King was a mother. She had four children. The eldest was a son, Codi, age 15. The youngest was still in diapers.

On New Year's Eve 2007 Courtney Brooks left his home in Hampstead at 4pm to go to work, downtown. He was dressed in his police uniform , black nylon gun belt and various holders, handcuffs  and black work boots. The belt was fully equipped.


On New Year's Eve 2007 Miss King also left her home in Elkton in the morning, also to at go downtown. At about 10 o'clock am, Codi thought she was going "to work"  Really, she was going "to party."   Oddly enough for a young woman going to  party in the City on New Year's Eve, she was dressed in pajama bottoms with a multicolor fruit print pattern; fuzzy green "frog head" slippers and a black spaghetti strap tank top with the logo "Lust, Baltimore Md." spelled out in rhinestones across the chest. The pocket of her jacket that day  included three condoms and a green button in the pocket.

When it was all over, Officer Brooks  had  chewing gum in his mouth, glass fragments embedded in his holster and green metallic paint chips in his clothing.

When it was all over Kerry King had prescription painkillers and an open bottle  of vodka in her truck;   Officer Brooks' blood on her windshield, mirror and in her clothes.

Kerri King is the Defendant in this criminal case.   She is charged with Vehicular Manslaughter,   Driving Under the Influence; Failing to Remain at the Scene of a Fatal  Accident and other charges in connection with the tragic death of Transportation Authority Officer Courtney Brooks at 11:17 pm on December 31, 2007 .on I- 95, northbound, @ Exit 53.

At the time of the fatal collision, Officer Brooks was positioned in the gore area  that separates Exit 53N  to Interstate 395 and I-95N at mile marker 52.3. The gore area, which is a non travel V-shaped area  about 150 ft long was LIT UP LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE with sixteen carefully positioned flares and emergency vehicle lights activated. Officer Brooks was working a Homeland Security detail to prevent commercial vehicles from entering Baltimore during the New Year's celebrations.
             
Kerri King was driving her dark green SUV in the exit lane for I-395,  after a long day of drinking alcohol which inhibited her judgment and ability to drive,  when she made an abrupt and sudden left turn from the exit to I-395 through the gore area, striking  Officer Brooks and propelling him into the air , landing 70 –some  feet from the point of impact.

Kerri King then fled the scene, northbound on I-95, first tapping her brakes but not slowing, not stopping, not concerning herself with the seriously injured father of three.

A sharp thinking witness to the collision, Ravanna El, who was driving home to NJ,  followed the defendant until she was stopped at the toll plaza on I-95 where he was able to write down her tag number and relay it to the police through the lady at the toll booth.

Once the owner and driver of the SUV was identified, investigators, led by Primary Detective: Cpl Christopher Lamb, painstakingly recreated  Kerri King's movements from the time she left her home until she was taken into custody at 6:28 am

You will hear from a series of witnesses: some civilian, some law enforcement, some law enforcement  related.  The civilian witnesses can be divided into three time periods: pre-crash; crash; and post crash.

Some of the law enforcement or "law enforcement related" witnesses can be similarly organized, but they will testify additionally concerning: investigative and scientific evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt

an extremely inebriated Kerri King

a woman who announced she was there to party when she arrived at club Lust at shortly before noon [House-Jobin Wilson]

a woman who had been drinking for at least 11 hours

including at a pizza place where the manager had to speak to her several times and then cut her off, [manager Mike Owens and Natasha Jones]

who the went to another  club, Chez Joey  where she is captured on videotape falling on the floor, staggering up the steps, vomiting and unable to dress, [Christy Butt]

a woman who had been drinking for at least 11 hours

then is captured on videotape leaving her garage, having vomited on the pay to park machine, [Forest Spriggs]

so "high" that the attendant had to pay her ticket and insert it in another machine to get her out of the garage,

DROVE HER SUV,
 
And  killed Courtney Brooks  when

she left the travel lanes of the highway

crossed INTO and through

the well lighted and marked GORE area

and hit Officer Courtney Brooks, [at 41.77 mph per reconstruction by Sgt Kevin Ayd]

whose body was propelled up onto the SUV shattering the windshield, breaking off the antennae, headlight and part of the grill,

and thrown 71.9 feet onto the concrete surface.

throwing him high enough into the air that three teenagers in the car behind her were stunned,  stopped and backed, {Ebony Johnson, Ebony Brown, Brandy Campbell]

Throwing him high enough that a car several lengths behind Kerri   King saw him.  [Ravanna El]


And she doesn't even slow down. Just taps her brakes not slowing, not stopping, not concerning herself with the seriously injured father of three.

The evidence shows she actually knew what she had done.

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Church lady sees her at mulberry st  [Ashanti Kenyatta]

She gets off toll roads and calls Codi "I hit a cop car" "I ll get arrested"[Matthew  Pritt}

Calls her neighbor for directions who gets out a map and GPS [Tessie Hayes]

Stops at the Royal Farm store- conversation, people in lot, videotape.

Dumps the car at a truck stop. [own statement, Hayes, Codi]

IS picked up the next day about 7 hrs later and is given breathlyer: results:

Opinion of toxicologist Brain Lavine  1.7 at POI

Staggering disheveled make up down her face asks to sit down reeks of booze

Exhibits to include:
reconstruction of the collision, including impact speed.

toxicology results and elimination rates.

autopsy of Officer Brook's body Multiple injuries. Need photos [Rubio]

Examination of item's recovered from the crime scene as  well as clothing worn by the defendant and victim using high intensity lighting, magnification and polarized light microscopy

Sal Bianca ---puzzle and exam and concude

results of DNA testing of blood on her car Jason Befus

results of DNA testing on vodka bottle.  Jason Befus, forensic scientist iii

With witness testimony corroborated by:
cell phone records showing her movements after the accident
videotape from multiple locations showing her condition.

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