Man charged in crash that killed two girls goes on trial

Emerald Smith
Emerald Smith (Family photo)

To the police officer patrolling near BWI Marshall Airport around midnight, the maroon Lincoln sedan on New Ridge Road stood out. Two front headlights were out, and the windshield was caved in with "two large impact craters."

The female driver admitted being involved in an accident on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Baltimore but was "unsure what she hit," according to the police report. The man in the passenger seat said he had been asleep and remembered nothing.

But prosecutors hope to show this week that the two switched seats in the 26 minutes between the time the car killed 16-year-old Courtney Angeles and 17-year-old Emerald Smith, and when the officer stopped the battered Lincoln in Anne Arundel County.

At a Baltimore Circuit Court trial scheduled to start Wednesday, prosecutors will try to convince a jury that Reuben Dunn, 28, was behind the wheel — an allegation disputed by Dunn's attorney. He has been charged with two counts of automobile manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of alcohol

The June 13 accident plunged Southwest Baltimore's tight Pigtown neighborhood into mourning. Relatives gathered at the scene and at their homes, angry that the driver never stopped. The girls, who had been best friends since kindergarten and grew up a block from each other, had been going to visit a friend when they were struck at the Pratt Street intersection about 11:40 p.m.

Courtney's mother, Pamela Mendell-Morales, said she visits her eldest daughter's grave regularly, sometimes taking a red rose. "My girls will always be my everything," she said. "I live and breathe for my children.

"Those kids were hit like they were dogs in the street, and the car kept going," the mother said. Of Courtney, she added, "We will miss her dearly."

Court documents show that prosecutors have hinged their case largely on the testimony of Kendra Myles, the 26-year-old woman who was driving the Lincoln when it was stopped near the airport. Two months after the crash, Myles changed her story and told police that Dunn had been driving when the girls were hit, according to court documents.

Myles has pleaded guilty to two counts of being an accessory after the fact and faces a suspended five-year sentence and probation — with the promise her record could be expunged after she testifies against Dunn, the father of her two children. Her attorney, Keith H. Roberts, did not return several calls to his office for comment.

But defense attorney James L. Rhodes said authorities lack any physical evidence to prove Dunn was behind the wheel and have no proof that his client had been "drinking all day," as a prosecutor alleged at a bail hearing.

Rhodes said the traffic signal was green or yellow at the time of the crash, indicating the victims were crossing against a light. A red-light camera at the intersection at Pratt Street was working but did not snap a photo — proof that the light was not red, he said.

The attorney also said that police never had Dunn take a Breathalyzer test, even though a prosecutor alleged that Dunn had been drinking.

"If my client is as stumbling drunk as the police make out, it makes no sense that [Myles] would give him the vehicle to drive," Rhodes said. "No one is going to believe that ... she said, 'Let me give the drunk guy the keys.'"

Referring to Myles' revised statement, which a prosecutor read in court when she pleaded guilty, Rhodes said, "It's not until she gets an attorney that all of a sudden something changes. Police have absolutely no one to corroborate."

Myles' statement, Rhodes said, "is all the prosecutors have. That's it." He said that "at the worst-case scenario, my client had a yellow light and was proceeding through it."

Spokesmen for the Baltimore Police Department, which investigated the accident, and for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, whose officer pulled over the Lincoln, declined to comment, citing the open investigation.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, also declined to comment, citing his office's policy against speaking publicly about cases pending in court. Officials would not say why neither occupant of the car was tested for alcohol.

The statement of facts read into the court record during Myles' hearing in November offers a vivid account of the accident that killed the girls.

Assistant State's Attorney Robyne Szokoly said Myles and Dunn left Severn, where they live, the evening of June 13 and headed for Frisby Street in Govans to move furniture for Myles' mother. When they were done, she said, Dunn went to a friend's house. About 7:30 p.m., Szokoly said, "Ms. Myles said Mr. Dunn was drinking a beer."

Myles told police that Dunn and his friend left and returned to the neighborhood about 11:30 p.m. Myles said she was sitting on the front steps of her mother's rowhouse and got into the passenger seat of the car.

"Mr. Dunn was driving the vehicle," Myles said in the statement read in court.

Szokoly then read from Myles' statement to police, putting it in the court record: "As we were approaching the light, we were still, you know, talking. I know that it's a red light camera. As we were crossing, I yelled at him not to get the red light. … I looked up to see the light was turning yellow and once I looked down I saw the girls, and I said to him, 'Watch out,' because they were right in my face."

Myles told police she could see the teens' faces. "One of the girls was in shock, and she went to push the other girl out of the way," she said. "Both of them hit the car. … I screamed, 'What are you doing?' Initially, he stopped. Then moments later he sped off."

Police estimated the car was going between 42 and 50 mph — on a stretch of road that has a 35-mph speed limit — when it hit the girls. Myles told police, according to the statement read in court, that she glanced back after impact and "prayed that they didn't die. But it looked bad."

The prosecutor said the driver continued south toward Severn. "Mr. Dunn requested that Ms. Myles drive the car, and tell the authorities she was driving," Szokoly said. "He just kept saying, 'I'm going to jail forever. I'm going to jail forever.'"

Myles said Dunn asked, "What do I do? What do I do?" to which she responded, according to her statement, "We have to go back." Myles said they switched seats and she started to drive back to the scene when they were stopped by the officer who saw the damaged windshield.

Szokoly said in court that Dunn told Myles he was worried because of his criminal record. Court records show a felony conviction, in 2005 in Montgomery County, for drug distribution and carrying a handgun in a car. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but three months suspended.

Dunn also has a traffic case pending. He was charged with speeding in August, two months after the double-fatal accident. Police said they clocked him at 65 mph in a 45-mph zone on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway near Route 198 in Laurel.

Myles was fined $160 in 2009 for driving 74 mph in a 55-mph zone on Route 100 in Howard County, according to court records. In March 2010, she was fined $33 for driving on a suspended license in Anne Arundel County.

Courtney's mother, Mendell-Morales, said the toughest part about Myles' hearing came when the prosecutor quoted from the statement to police and described the teens at impact. Myles said one girl — Courtney — pushed the other to get her out of the way.

"As sad as it was, that made me happy," Mendell-Morales said. "My daughter loved [Emerald] so much."

Mendell-Morales said she realizes that testimony at a trial will be tougher than at the hearing. The medical examiner, along with the first police officers at the scene, will testify and provide new and even more gruesome details.

"The anticipation of knowing it's going to be over with is good," Mendell-Morales said. "I'm looking forward to the trial, but the part where I have to sit there and listen to how my daughter died, I'm not looking forward to that."