Drunken driver who struck, killed Columbia man on I-95 sentenced to 24 months for manslaughter

James Nicholas Khoury, 29, of Columbia, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on Interstate 95 in Arbutus on Sept. 26, 2019.
James Nicholas Khoury, 29, of Columbia, was struck and killed by a drunk driver on Interstate 95 in Arbutus on Sept. 26, 2019. (Family photo / HANDOUT)

A drunken driver who in September 2019 struck and killed a Columbia resident on Interstate 95 in Arbutus was sentenced Oct. 26 to serve 24 months in jail after emotional testimony from the victim’s family and friends.

Cesar Jariel Morel-Cruz, 27, of Baltimore pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter with a motor vehicle after, while impaired by alcohol, he struck and killed James Nicholas Khoury, 29, just after 7 a.m. Sept. 26, 2019.


Morel-Cruz was driving a white Ford van when he drifted to the highway shoulder, where Khoury was parked with his disabled Toyota Yaris, and sideswiped Khoury and his vehicle, according to police and his family. Khoury died on the scene.

Morel-Cruz stayed at the scene, where he was arrested after officers determined his insobriety with field tests.


Morel-Cruz was facing several charges, including homicide by a motor vehicle while impaired, driving while under the influence and reckless driving.

Those charges were dropped through a binding plea agreement. Citing that Morel-Cruz had no prior convictions, state prosecutors and the Baltimore County Public Defender’s Office incarcerated him on a single manslaughter charge.

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Robinson Jr. presided over the case.

The 13 months Morel-Cruz has been detained in the Baltimore County detention center will be credited toward his sentence, meaning he will serve 11 more months in prison. Morel-Cruz will be on supervised probation for five years upon release and must seek alcohol abuse treatment.

Polly Khoury, James Khoury’s mother, said Morel-Cruz’s sentence, and the penalties against drunken drivers in Maryland, are “really disheartening" and not stringent enough.

“No family should ever have to go through what we’re going through,” she said.

Morel-Cruz was not convicted of driving under the influence.

James Khoury’s family described him as someone who cared deeply about fairness, standing up for classmates who were bullied as a child, and a caring friend who went out of his way to help those he loved.

He was also an avid learner, a “forgiving Orioles fan,” and a “wonderful big brother” to his sister Laura, his parents said.

He graduated from Atholton High School in Columbia where he was part of the Junior ROTC, and went on to earn an English degree from Hood College in Frederick. James Khoury was on his way to work at a legal research firm in Washington, D.C. when Morel-Cruz struck him.

His girlfriend, Julia Friedrich, was in the passenger seat. They had exchanged their first “I love you” the morning before he was killed, she testified Monday.

“I lost both him and the best parts of myself,” Friedrich said.


With shaking hands, Mike Khoury, James Khoury’s father, detailed the grief he and his family have endured since Sept. 26 — “all because this defendant chose to drink and drive,” he said.

“You didn’t just kill my son,” Khoury told Morel-Cruz. “You killed me, too.”

Amanda Wong, a public defender representing Morel-Cruz in Baltimore County’s circuit court, said that Morel-Cruz had been drinking after getting off a shift at work. She said he was celebrating the news of his soon-to-be third child before getting a call from his employer to return a company van so a co-worker could retrieve their belongings inside.

Through a translator, Morel-Cruz told James Khoury’s loved ones he’s “very sorry for what happened.”

“I know that I can’t give you your son back,” he said, “but I know that I will have to deal with that for the rest of my life.”

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