Nightmare of drunken driving devastates 2 families

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For Debra Ann Glaser, June 30, 1989, was a nightmare revisited.

She was shaken to learn that within hours of leaving her house that day, her estranged husband, John Charles Glaser, had gotten drunk and killed a 30-year-old North Point man while driving the wrong way on the Baltimore Beltway.

Six years earlier, a drunken John Glaser had driven off Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and into a tree, killing his best friend. It was then that he plunged head-first into the bottle, said Mrs. Glaser, 37, of Glen Burnie.

"It's bad enough to go through it once. You don't expect to have to do it twice," said Mrs. Glaser, whose 18 years as a barmaid left her a teetotaler. "Alcohol turns beautiful lives to mush."

But John Glaser's story is more than that of families ruined.

The family of the man killed in the Beltway crash, Everett Jones, had their wounds reopened this week as controversy erupted over an appeals court ruling that Mr. Glaser must be freed because he had paid a $35 traffic ticket in the case, making his auto manslaughter conviction an instance of double jeopardy.

Norman Jones, 26, of Dundalk, one of Everett Jones'five brothers and sisters, said yesterday that he will begin circulating a petition today asking that Mr. Glaser never be allowed to drive again "in Maryland or anywhere in the United States."

His brother worked at the SCM Corp., Norman Jones said, "and his co-workers are right behind us all the way on this. We're devastated still, and appalled at the decision. You can't put a price on a person's life. He [Mr. Glaser] paid a $35 fine."

Mr. Glaser, a 37-year-old, college-educated plumber from Stevensville, registered a .24 blood-alcohol level the night he killed Everett Jones -- more than twice the .10 level for a legal finding of intoxication in Maryland.

Amid intense public debate over whether the law has overridden justice, Mrs. Glaser maintains that there isstill hope for her former husband.

"John is not all bad. For the first time in years, I can see a change in him, in his attitude, his way of speaking, the way he presents himself. He is thinking logically and he's genuinely sorry," she said.

"This time he really admits he was wrong," Mrs. Glaser said. "Maybe for John's sanity he had to deny his alcoholism."

Mr. Glaser, who has been jailed for the last 13 months, is now at the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Quantico, Wicomico County, awaiting his release in the wake of the appeals court decision. Mrs. Glaser said she last visited him a month ago.

Since then, the Court of Special Appeals has reversed his manslaughter conviction, based on a Supreme Court ruling in a New York case. The Constitution prohibits double jeopardy -- being tried twice for the same crime.

Mr. Glaser admitted his guilt in paying the $35 fine for the wrong-way charge, the appeals court said. Therefore, the three-judge panel said, prosecutors could not use the same conduct as the basis for seeking a manslaughter conviction.

Assistant Attorney General Valerie Smith said yesterday that the state is considering whether to ask the Court of Special Appeals to reconsider its ruling or to seek a review by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

John Cox, who prosecuted Mr. Glaser in Baltimore County Circuit Court, said the Court of Special Appeals ruled correctly under the circumstances, but he feels the Supreme Court decision on which the ruling was based is incorrect.

The reversal was frustrating, Mr. Cox said, "but Glaser didn't beat the system; the system beat itself."

The New York case on which the Court of Special Appeals based its decision was pending before the Supreme Court at the time of the Glaser case, Mr. Cox said. "We knew it was there, but we hoped it would come down our way," he said.

The high court ruled on the case a few weeks after Mr. Glaser was sentenced, the double-jeopardy argument having already been rejected at his trial. This formed the basis for Public Defender Mark Colvin's appeal, which in turn led to Mr. Glaser's conviction being overturnedMay 29.

Published reports of the court ruling led to an angry public's perception that Mr. Glaser was getting off lightly on a technicality after being responsible for two deaths.

On the advice of Mr. Colvin, who is handling the appeal, Mr. Glaser refused an interview request yesterday because of possible additional legal action.

Mr. Colvin also declined to comment on the case but asked, "What's wrong with the Court of Special Appeals applying the law set down by the Supreme Court?"

To prevent recurrence, Mr. Cox said, police operating in the county have been told not to issue any traffic tickets that can be paid off in accident cases where there is a fatality or such serious injuries that death is likely.

Gill Cochran, the Annapolis lawyer who represented Mr. Glaser in Circuit Court, described his client as "a very sincere man."

"It is a tragedy. The positive side is that this man is really trying to straighten his life out. It's a shame that it takes criminality to do that. Everybody says jail, jail, jail, but what about rehabilitation? It's cheaper than jail," Mr. Cochran said.

As a recovering alcoholic himself, Mr. Cochran said, he understood Mr. Glaser's problem and immediately got him into a 30-day alcohol rehabilitation program and "heavy" into Alcoholics Anonymous.

"What I tried to do is help this man," Mr. Cochran said. "He knew he was going to jail big time and he tried to prepare himself."

Mr. Glaser earned a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of Tampa in 1976. He was captain of the U.S. water-skiing team while in college, his ex-wife said.

Her husband liked to drink at the time they got married in 1979 but not to frequent excess, she said. His drinking increased after the 1983 accident, when his car ran off Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard and struck a tree, killing his best friend, Carroll J. "Rock" Finkner, 56, of Chester.

Mr. Finkner had lost his license because of drinking, Mrs. Glaser said, and her husband was driving him to a christening when the accident occurred. Mr. Glaser's blood-alcohol content was .19 at the time, well above the level for legal intoxication.

In a plea bargain, he was sentenced to 20 days in the Anne Arundel County Jail -- to be served on 10 consecutive weekends -- and was fined $250. "That was back in 1983 -- sentences weren't as stiff as they are today," Mr. Cox said.

Prior to the 1983 accident, Mr. Glaser had only two blemishes on his driving record, according to his former wife: a 1979 charge of negligent driving, after he left a broken-down car on U.S. 50 that later got hit, and a speeding ticket in 1981.

After the first fatal accident, the couple received alcohol-abuse counseling and Mr. Glaser attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week, Mrs. Glaser said. However, he resumed drinking -- mostly at home -- and denied having a problem, she said.

Family life deteriorated for the Glasers and their three young children. In her years as a barmaid, she said, "I've seen what alcohol does to people," and it was happening to her family.

"We both had careers and a good family, and I told him, 'You're throwing it away,' " Mrs. Glaser said. "I just got tired of not having a husband and the children not having a father."

They separated April 30, two months before the accident in which Mr. Jones was killed. Her husband was "very upset" over the separation, Mrs. Glaser said. On the day of the fatal accident, he had taken a daughter horseback-riding.

Afterward, Mrs. Glaser said, he left and "drove around and drank and thought," then ended up the wrong way on the Beltway and collided with Mr. Jones' car.

"John did a horrible thing. There is no way to replace that man's life," Mrs. Glaser said. "I don't think John will ever drink again, but you never can tell with an alcoholic. But for the first time in years, I can see a change in him."

Most of Mr. Glaser's family now lives in Florida, said Mrs. Glaser, whose divorce became final last week.

"John doesn't have anything but these children, and he knows the children won't be available to him if he messes up," she said. "The children have been through too many changes, and counseling, to do it again."

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