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A senseless death a boy remembered Family's anger focuses on driver


It's a parent's worst nightmare, watching helplessly as a car weaves out of the night and hits your child, kills your child, then drives on.

That nightmare became a reality for Brad Merrell.

"My son was within feet from me, and I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "It's the worst thing that any parent, or anybody, can go through in their lives. That's all I can say."

His son, Benjamin Kenneth Merrell, 10, was killed last Friday by a hit-and-run driver who later told police he had been drinking.

Ben was the all-American boy. He played Little League baseball and had been a Cub Scout for two years. His Scout leader said he was an avid camper. His baseball coach said he was a catcher, first-baseman and one of the team's best hitters. His mother, Robin Merrell, said he was into everything.

"He was all boy," she said. "One thing he always wanted to do, but he never got to do, was cut the grass. He would say, 'Mom, let's go buy a lawn-mower, so I can cut the grass.' . . . He was a very, very special kid."

According to police, court records and the Merrells, the events leading up to Ben's death began when the family started having trouble with their car last Friday night.

Ben was supposed to go on a weekend camping trip that night with his Scout troop. Because of the car trouble, he stayed behind and planned to join his Cub Scout buddies early Saturday morning.

Brad Merrell took his son and his daughter, Kristal, 8, to a friend's house several doors north on Hanover Pike in the Arcadia section of Baltimore County. He was going to work on the family car. After he finished working, they stayed for dinner, then headed home about 11 p.m.

Brad Merrell walked with Kristal. Ben rode ahead of them on his bicycle. All three were moving south, facing the northbound traffic. They were on a neighbor's lawn when a northbound 1991 Plymouth Acclaim approached. The car was weaving.

Brad Merrell told Ben to watch out, but the warning came too late. The Plymouth went off the road and hit Ben with enough force to throw him 54 feet from his bicycle. The car never stopped.

Ben was rushed to the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Center, where he died a few hours later.

Brad Merrell later told his wife the Plymouth's driver "looked him in the eye" and kept driving.

Robert Brown, a truck driver, didn't see the accident, but he did see the Plymouth swerving northbound on Route 30 -- the Hanover Pike -- toward Hampstead. He wrote down the tag number and gave it to police, who learned the car was registered to Ronald Lee Adams, 38, of the 18400 block of Gunpowder Road in Hampstead in Carroll County.

County and state police went to the residence and, according to court charging documents, saw the Plymouth in a garage. The car had been damaged on the right front end. They tried to rouse Mr. Adams, then gave up and busted in. They found him sound asleep in a bedroom.

Mr. Adams, who had a blood alcohol level of .13 percent, told police he had been drinking beers at the Windsor Inn and didn't remember hitting anyone. He was arrested, charged with drunken driving and fleeing the scene of an accident, and later freed on $50,000 bail.

Prosecutors are reviewing the case. Mr. Adams could face additional charges of auto manslaughter and homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated. If charged and convicted of those crimes, he would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Not much is known about Mr. Adams. He is divorced, the father of a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. His driving record is clean, according to Motor Vehicle Administration officials.

Since their son's death, the Merrells have been visited by friends and family from all over the country. They were gratified by the large turnout at Ben's funeral Monday. More than 300 people attended, including his Cub Scout troop, who wore their uniforms. Ben was buried in his baseball uniform.

"He was loved by a lot of people," said Mrs. Merrell. "Ben had a very big heart."

The Merrells also are angered by the senselessness of their son's death.

"If I ever have a chance to talk to that man [Adams]," Mrs. Merrell said, "I would have to ask him what possessed him to crawl behind the wheel of that car while he was intoxicated."

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