A Harford County judge set bail at $375,000 for a New Jersey man charged in the March crash that killed the president of Klein’s ShopRite and a 7-year-old on Route 24 in Bel Air.
Carloo Everton Watson, 49, of North Brunswick, N.J., was indicted by a grand jury Tuesday as the result of an ongoing investigation of the March 11 fatal collision at Route 24 and Ring Factory Road, and turned himself into troopers at the Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack around 6 p.m. Wednesday.
He appeared via video from the Harford County Detention Center for a bail review hearing Thursday afternoon with Harford Circuit Court Judge Angela Eaves.
“He is personally devastated by the accident. His level of remorse is beyond anything I’ve seen in 25 years," Watson’s attorney, Brian Thompson, said after the hearing. “We maintain it was an accident, an unspeakable tragedy especially with the loss of a young child, and we intend to defend him vigorously."
Watson was indicted on two counts of gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, two counts of criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, and four counts of causing serious injury while using a cellphone.
He was driving the ShopRite tractor-trailer south on Route 24 in Bel Air around 7 a.m. March 11 when it crashed through a line of traffic at Ring Factory Road and burst into flames as it came to rest.
Killed were Andrew Klein, 65, of Forest Hill and president of Klein’s Family Markets — a division of ShopRite, and 7-year-old Tripp Johnson, a second-grader at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon. Four other people were seriously injured.
Thompson, of the Baltimore law firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, White, requested that Eaves set bail for Watson. He was originally held without bail.
The New Jersey resident, who has spent 27 years as a trucker, turned himself in to police in Maryland within 24 hours of the indictment being issued, an indication that Watson is not a flight risk, Thompson told Eaves during a bail review Thursday afternoon in Harford County Circuit Court.
Watson found out about the indictment late Tuesday afternoon, the day it was issued, and immediately called Thompson’s office. He drove to Maryland the next day, Wednesday, with his father, sister and cousin to meet with Thompson, then turned himself in later in the afternoon.
“This was a tragedy, but it was an accident,” Thompson said. “[Mr. Watson] has demonstrated by his actions he has no intention of fleeing. If he wanted to, he could have done it a long time ago.”
Anticipating a bail review hearing on Friday, Watson’s family drove back to New Jersey, but headed back to Maryland Thursday when learning the bail hearing would be that afternoon, Thompson said.
Originally from Jamaica, Watson came to the United States in 1991 and in 2000 became a U.S. citizen, Thompson said. He has few ties to Jamaica other than his ex-wife, he said.
His five children were all born in the United States and live here and Watson raised four of them as a single father, Thompson said. His youngest child, a 7-year-old daughter, lives with her mother.
Watson has no criminal record, and in 27 years driving a truck has never been issued a citation, Thompson said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Cristin Treaster argued Watson is a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Treaster pointed out the accident happened over a 400-foot stretch of Route 24, and Watson’s truck hit 11 cars before coming to rest.
“The only reason [it stopped was] because there were too many cars under his truck,” Treaster said. “He hit one car, made no effort to stop, then hit another and another. At some point you have to ponder if there is an intentional aspect to this.”
New Jersey renewed his commercial driver’s license, which makes him a danger to society, she said.
Thompson said Watson has his CDL, but is working in a warehouse and no longer driving trucks. “And he is not charged with intentionality,” Thompson said.
In setting Watson’s bail, Eaves said she considered the seriousness of the accident, which killed two people and injured several others, his ties to the United States, whether he’s a flight risk and that he’s no longer driving trucks.
Even though the circumstances of the crash were “horrific,” Eaves said, she believed Watson deserved bail, albeit a high one. "A high bail is appropriate,” Eaves said in setting it at $375,000.
If Watson is released, he must turn in his passport to the State’s Attorney’s Office. Unless he has permission of the court in advance, Watson may not leave New Jersey except to come to Maryland for legal proceedings nor can he change his address.
Gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison with a $5,000 fine, while criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of three years of incarceration with a $5,000 fine.
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Causing serious injury while using a cellphone is a traffic offense that carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail with a $5,000 fine.