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Friend's death spurs children to lobby legislators

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Annie Davis' friends miss her smile and her words of encouragement.

Most of all, though, they miss her laugh and her independent spirit.

If some grown-up order seemed foolish, Annie might say, "Moo." For some reason, she had a girlish thing about cows -- but the word "moo" was also a polite form of protest.

Classmates giggled, and adults were indulgent. No one worked harder than Annie, had more promise or more respect.

And then she was gone.

Anne Kristen Davis, barely 12, died Oct. 30 of injuries suffered the day before in an automobile accident. Her mother's minivan was rammed by a Ford pickup east of Annapolis.

The pickup, police say, hit the van broadside after its driver did not to obey a stop sign. Thomas Francis George, 61, has been indicted on charges of automobile manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Police say Mr. George, who refused to take a blood alcohol test, "volunteered" to an officer that he had had "a few beers" that afternoon. A cooler and beer cans were found in and around the truck, police said.

Mr. George, whose state driving record shows no offenses, said by telephone Friday that he has not entered a plea to the charges. He declined further comment.

His trial is set for March 29, but the 1,100 children of Magothy River Middle School, their parents and teachers are not waiting for a day in court.

Two of Annie's classmates -- including one who survived the crash -- are taking their case to the General Assembly. They have heard the assertion that Maryland's drunken driving laws are among the nation's toughest.

Their response is, "Moo."

They will ask the assembly to take another look at drunken driving laws.

On Wednesday, they will testify before a Senate committee in favor of a bill that will set conditions under which suspected drunken drivers must submit to blood alcohol tests.

They have won the support of Anne Arundel County senators and delegates, who met recently with a group including Annie's friend, 12-year-old Erin Scheide, and Annie's mother, Susan Ann Edkins.

"It seems as if when you refuse to do everything a police officer tells you to do, you stand a better chance of not being punished or being punished to a lesser degree," said Erin.

Mrs. Edkins said, "What are we teaching our children about consequences of their actions? People make choices when they get behind the wheel of a car. It is no accident when they do this, and the ripple-down effect of shattered lives, of hopes and dreams for the victims is unfair."

Driving home

Mrs. Edkins had been driving the family's van home from McDonald's. Annie and her friends, Valerie Edwards and Cassie Weitzen, were riding in the middle seats.

They had been to see Annie's 9-year-old brother, Drew, a center for the Cape St. Claire Cougars, in a football game. Annie had made banners for the team's homecoming.

The collision occurred at the corner of Cape St. Claire Road and Busch's Frontage Road about 8:30 p.m. when the pickup came along Busch's Frontage Road parallel to U.S. 50. Heidi Montgomery, a beautician, riding in a car behind the van, heard a tremendous boom and saw the two vehicles spin ahead of her. She called 911 on her car phone.

The van plunged off the road, down an embankment and hung precariously over a culvert.

The children were thrown together, trapped in a rubble of broken glass and twisted metal. Valerie had a broken collar bone and Cassie a broken pelvis. Annie, who had been seated between her friends, was unconscious and bleeding.

"I don't think she's breathing," Cassie said.

'Help the children'

They heard Mrs. Edkins, outside the van by then, screaming for )) help.

"Help the children. Help the children. The children are dying!"

Valerie remembers wondering if there was some way to make the flashing lights and screaming and worry about Annie go away.

"I just thought maybe I could go to sleep," she told Diane Bragdon, one of her teachers at Magothy River.

Mrs. Edkins had suffered a concussion and temporary loss of memory, so 11-year-old Cassie, who appeared to be the least seriously injured, gave police all the important telephone numbers.

Four helicopters flew to the accident scene. Three took the girls to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The other took Mrs. Edkins to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Mrs. Edkins' husband, Alan, had remained at the football field not far from the accident scene. Later, he remembered hearing the helicopters come and go. When his wife and Annie were not at home when he got there, he assumed they had stopped to visit friends.

Then the police called.

No hope

He was told he should go to Hopkins first because Annie was in such critical condition.

Mrs. Edkins was not able to go to Hopkins until the next morning. She was taken there with blood and glass still in her hair. An intensive care nurse herself for 20 years, she knew there was no hope as soon as she saw her child.

"She was not my daughter any more. She was gone," Mrs. Edkins says.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, Annie's father, Peter Davis, a professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, arrived. He had a few moments alone with his daughter.

Later in the afternoon, Annie's family agreed the machines should be turned off. Annie would have wanted her heart and eyes donated for transplant, Mrs. Edkins says, and for that to happen, there were time considerations.

Valerie Edwards' injuries turned out to be minor. But her parents, Rick and Laurie Edwards, drove from Arnold to the hospital without knowing if she was alive. Mr. Edwards recalls walking into a hospital room and hearing his daughter's voice: "'Hi, Daddy.' "

Valerie and Erin Scheide made a presentation to members of the Anne Arundel County House of Delegates and Senate delegation Feb. 4.

"A lot of these guys are really old men," one of their teachers told them. 'So, you're going to have to speak up." They both giggled, then later gave their testimony with strength and clarity.

Erin told the legislators that students at Magothy River have been counseled about drug abuse throughout elementary school the DARE program.

"The big thing DARE stressed, and grown-ups all of our lives have stressed, is to not drink and drive," she said. And now, after the death of a friend, the DARE veterans "are finding out some very bad news."

'What is the point?'

Next came Dawn Poley Schulman representing Annie's friends from the Magothy River community.

"As we grieved," she said, "we consoled ourselves with the fact that at the very least our state would hold the alleged drunk driver accountable for his actions. How little we understood about the laws of Maryland."

They thought a blood alcohol test would be done automatically, she said. But under Maryland law, such a test is mandatory only if someone has been killed outright. If medical science prolongs a life, an offender may escape the full disclosure of his condition that a test would provide.

"What is the point of establishing a [blood alcohol] level at which someone is driving while intoxicated if it can't be enforced?" Mrs. Schulman demanded.

Group members know their campaign for mandatory testing faces many hurdles. They understand that a testing law would have to be balanced against the constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. Those considerations, in fact, have won out in the House.

Defeated in committee

A bill similar to the one pending in the Senate was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee.

"We took more time to debate whether the registers of wills deserve a $6,000 pay raise than we did on this bill," said Anne Arundel Republican Del. Phillip D. Bissett, its sponsor. "That's wrong. That's wrong."

But the Bissett bill had serious deficiencies, says Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who voted against it. Under Mr. Bissett's proposal, a person would face such a mandatory test only when an injured person is taken to a hospital or when there is a fatality.

Often, Mr. Montague said, accident victims refuse to be taken to a hospital. Should that refusal shield a drunken driver? Sometimes, no one is injured, yet a driver appears to be drunk. Should lack of injury bar the test?

Mr. Montague, a lawyer, says prosecutors want to simplify their jobs without regard to the Constitution. The difficulty for legislators, he said, is to find a formulation that would permit the test without abridging rights. But, he contends, the current system of laws provides sufficient means for establishing a case in court.

MADD disagrees

If a driver refuses to take the test, he or she is presumed to be driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of .10 percent, the standard for drunken driving established in Maryland, Mr. Montague said. Drivers may be found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol with a still lower level, .07 percent.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving disagrees with Mr. Montague and others who oppose the mandatory testing law. Knowledge of the precise level of alcohol in the blood is important information for a judge.

"No matter what other evidence you have," says Officer Wayne Tanis, a traffic safety investigator with the Anne Arundel County Police Department, "nothing compares to the blood alcohol content."

Some form of mandatory testing is required now in a majority of the states, according to MADD. Such a requirement is supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the American Association for Automotive Medicine, the Anne Arundel County police, the Maryland State Police and 70,000 Marylanders who have signed a petition of support.

"How many is enough?" Mrs. Edkins asked the county delegation.

For this year, she was told, numbers may be irrelevant. Even if the Senate passed a bill, its prospects in the House would not be good. Having already disposed of a bill of its own, the House committee would be reluctant to consider another.

Del. John G. Gary, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, said another remedy is available -- though it has only been used once in the years he's been in the legislature. Bills dead in committee can be brought to the floor of the House for debate if 15 members sign a discharge petition. That approach is seldom used because it would undermine the authority of the committee system, which depends on expert legislators to winnow the thousands of bills filed each year.

Mr. Gary promised to organize a discharge petition effort.

Memorial service

Life goes on for Annie's family and friends, though with great difficulty.

At the memorial service, Peter Davis read some of his daughter's poetry and said, "I've done a lot of crying this week. I'll cry a lot for the rest of my life."

The children said goodbye outside the church, releasing hundreds of balloons. In a single voice, they sent up one last "Moo" for their friend. They still touch her empty locker when they pass it. A memorial garden was established at the school in her memory.

At Christmas, Johnny Custer, a schoolmate of Annie's, told his parents he didn't want presents. He didn't want that Starter jacket. He wanted to buy a cherry tree for the garden.

A cross at the scene

Annie's brother, Drew, says he doesn't want to be an only child.

Alan Edkins tries to replace the recurring images of his gravely injured stepdaughter with a mental picture of her smile.

Susan and Alan Edkins put a cross at the scene of the accident and recently added a white heart with red ribbons. Pieces of broken auto glass remain encrusted in the ice there.

In the mail the other day, the family received a cash settlement from a life insurance policy. Among all the reminders, money seemed harsher than most. It's being used to buy computer equipment for Broadneck Elementary School, where Annie had been a student before going to Magothy River.

Susan and her sister, Maureen Davitt, who lives outside Rochester, N.Y., talk more on the phone these days. Maureen has three children of her own and a new perspective.

"I have my spats with them. I could wring their necks, and then I bring myself back to things. I see how quickly Annie was taken. You have to have your hugs and hope for the best."

You know you're not immune, she says, and suddenly you really know.

"Drunk drivers aren't choosy about who they slam into," she says.

ANNIE'S POEM

#

My Garden's Alive

Oh, yes it is

with Pink Daisies,

and Mums that hold

their Baby's Breath

close in sight,with

crabby Snapdragons

and little yellow Marigolds

blowing in the wind,

And delicate Pansies with pockets

of Posies, elegant Roses and

tomboyish Black-eyed Susans,

Feisty Tiger lilies and puckering Tulips.

My Garden's Alive

Oh, can't you see?

All the magic. . .

It's all about me. . .

Annie Davis

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