Two drivers charged with felony manslaughter in Baltimore Beltway crash that killed six workers

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The two drivers in the Baltimore Beltway crash that killed six construction workers were indicted Monday on charges that include negligent manslaughter.

Melachi Duane Darnell Brown, 20, was driving a Volkswagen Jetta that collided with an Acura TLX driven by Lisa Adrienne Lea, 54, who was attempting to change lanes in a construction zone on Interstate 695 on March 22. The Acura then entered the work zone through a gap in the jersey barriers, striking the workers at about 12:40 p.m.


Maryland State Police arrested Brown on Monday and are still searching for Lea, according to Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

Brown was held overnight at the Baltimore County Detention Center but ordered to house arrest during a bail review Tuesday afternoon.


At the start of his hearing, Brown said he did not understand why he was being charged.

“I understand [the charges]. I just don’t understand why I have to be charged with them,” Brown said through videoconference with the court.

Baltimore County Prosecutor Felise Kelly told District Court Judge Kathleen Murphy that Maryland State Police obtained a warrant for the “event data recorder” in both vehicles involved in the crash and discovered Brown was driving 111 mph when the two vehicles collided.

Kelly told Murphy that due to extreme speed and aggressive driving, Brown contributed to the death of the six individuals and is an ongoing risk to the community. Kelly added in court that Brown stopped his vehicle 880 feet away from the crash site and cooperated with police.

Michael Tomko, a private defense attorney representing Brown, said his client was arrested Monday while at work at an Amazon warehouse. Tomko stressed that Brown has no previous criminal record and Lea “triggered the accident” by striking his vehicle while attempting to change lanes.

“What you have is a five-minute snippet of his life when perhaps he was driving totally inappropriately,” Tomko said. “There is nothing to suggest he will not come to court.”

Kelly ruled that Brown will be held without bond and is eligible for level three home detention with a special condition that he may not drive. After the hearing, Tomko said the process is a formality and he fully expects Brown to be able to serve house arrest.

Both Lea and Brown face charges of felony vehicular negligent manslaughter and death of a vulnerable person in each of the six deaths. Lea, who faces a total of 28 counts, also was charged with aggressive driving and driving while impaired. Lea was impaired by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, according to the indictment.


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While there was no mention of Lea’s speed during Tuesday’s hearing, both drivers were “reportedly traveling at speeds higher than the posted limit of 55 mph, the regular speed for the beltway and greater than the speed of the adjacent traffic,” according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

State Police spokesperson Ron Snyder said Tuesday that they are still searching for Lea. He declined to say whether authorities believe she is in the state.

Lea was seriously injured in the crash and was released later from the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, according to the Maryland State Police, the primary agency in charge of investigating the collision. Brown reported no injuries.

Video footage from a state transportation camera obtained by media outlets after the crash shows a gray Acura trying to merge into the Baltimore Beltway’s left-most lane and striking a white Volkswagen. The Acura then veers into the work zone. All six workers were pronounced dead at the scene.

Five of the workers who were killed were employees of Concrete General: Rolando Ruiz, 46, of Laurel; Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, 43, and his brother, Jose Armando Escobar, 52, both of Frederick; and Mahlon Simmons III, 31, and his father, Mahlon Simmons II, 52, both of Union Bridge. The sixth was identified as Sybil Lee DiMaggio, a 46-year-old Severna Park resident who worked as an inspector for KCI Technologies.

Mike Belsky, an attorney representing DiMaggio’s estate, said the charges were the “first step toward accountability” for the crash. He attributed blame to a “dangerous” construction site design.


“We are optimistic that the investigation will go further in holding those who were responsible for the construction site accountable as well,” he said.