A Baltimore County dentist who drove his Mercedes-Benz off Paper Mill Road, smashed a 15-year-old boy's left ankle into a tree and then drove away, escaped a jail term yesterday in Owings Mills District Court.
Michael James Bennett, 50, of Phoenix was sentenced to a suspended one-year term, ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service and fined $1,550 by Judge I. Marshall Seidler.
He was found guilty of failing to stop, failing to render aid and failing to control his speed.
Judge Seidler rejected a demand for a jail term from prosecutor Alexandra N. Williams.
"People are outraged by what he did," Ms. Williams told the judge, arguing that a jail term for Dr. Bennett would serve as a deterrent for others.
"Dr. Bennett should pay for his actions," she said, adding, "It doesn't matter if you're a Bethlehem Steel worker or a prominent dentist. He [Bennett] never came clean with this."
Augustus F. Brown, Dr. Bennett's attorney, told the judge before the sentencing that his client had drunk at least four cocktails, plus wine, at dinner before the accident on July 24, a rainy Friday night. Dr. Bennett's driving record includes 10 speeding tickets over the last 17 years and one license suspension in Delaware in 1987.
The victim, Daniel Lally, who appeared in court still on crutches, said afterward that he was "kind of disappointed" that Dr. Bennett didn't get any jail time.
Young Lally said there "was no way at all" that the dentist could have been unaware of his injury, as Dr. and Mrs. Bennett claimed, since both he and a friend were desperately screaming and banging on the car hood that night in an attempt to get Dr. Bennett to back the Mercedes up and free the youth's foot.
According to documents read in court, Daniel and three other boys had stopped to help another motorist whose car had run off the road at a curve near Green Branch Drive in Phoenix.
As they were walking toward the disabled car, Dr. Bennett's BTC Mercedes rounded the curve at high speed and pinned Daniel's leg to a tree before he could leap out of the way. His ankle and heel were crushed.
The statement said that the car backed off after about 10 seconds, and that Mrs. Bennett lowered the passenger window while her husband asked the driver of the first car if the police had been called.
Informed that police had probably not been called, Dr. Bennett drove off, veering into the westbound lanes of Paper Mill Road to avoid Daniel, who was being carried by two friends back to a pickup truck, the prosecution statement said.
Shortly afterward, a woman with a car phone pulled up and called police and an ambulance.
Dr. Bennett claimed through his attorney that he never knew the youth was injured and that he left town on a one-week bicycling trip across Maryland the Sunday after the accident. He then spent most of his time with his wife at a second home they have in Oxford on the Eastern Shore.
Police, meanwhile, were seeking the hit-and-run driver.
They discovered Dr. Bennett's identity Aug. 10 when detectives trying to match headlight fragments from the scene found his car being repaired at a Cockeysville Mercedes dealership.
Dr. Bennett had dropped the car off at Towson Valley Mercedes-Benz on July 25, the day after the accident, but merely told his insurance company that he had hit a tree, prosecutors said.
Judge Seidler rejected the Bennetts' claim that they didn't know Daniel was injured and were unaware of the community and media furor that followed the hit-and-run accident.
"They both knew what happened," the judge said. "He did nothing but try to cover his tracks."
Even so, Judge Seidler said, "I don't believe that a period of incarceration will do anything for anyone in a case such as this."
He recommended, instead, that Dr. Bennett work off his community service time by treating inmates either at the county detention center or at a state prison.
The dentist, a county native who graduated from the University of Maryland dental school in 1970, told Judge Seidler yesterday in court that "I have to say I am extremely devastated by this matter."
Turning awkwardly toward the Lally family in the audience, he said, "I wanted to go to the [Lally] family. I've got a boy myself. I know what they're going through. If I had it to do over again, I would certainly use a lot better judgment."
Diana Bennett said her husband has been unable to eat or sleep regularly, is "anguished" over the Lally boy's injury and has lost many patients since the publicity surrounding his arrest.
Ironically, Daniel himself was a patient as a young child.
"He wishes he had been injured," she said, instead of young Lally.
Daniel, a junior at Loyola High, said he hopes to have his cast off by Dec. 3, when he will be 16.