Crash victim's family gets $2.26 million out-of-court award

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The family of a Columbia woman killed in April 1993 when her car was struck by a dump truck operated with faulty brakes received $2.26 million in an out-of-court settlement yesterday.

The settlement was reached shortly before jury selection was to start for a two-week Howard County Circuit Court trial in a civil lawsuit filed against the truck's driver, its owner and the trucker's Anne Arundel County employer.

The lawsuit, filed in May 1993 on behalf of Suzanne Denise Bice, originally sought $50 million in damages against Gary Bernstein of Reisterstown and Aggregate Transport Corp. of Harwood. Martine Metz Bernstein, Mr. Bernstein's wife, who was listed as the truck's owner, also was a defendant.

Mrs. Bice, 43, was killed instantly when her Subaru was rammed by Mr. Bernstein's 65,230-pound dump truck after he ran a red light on Route 175 at Thunder Hill Road in Columbia.

Her 13-year-old son, Phillip, a passenger in the car, was in a coma for a month after the April 29, 1993, crash.

The suit contended that the defendants failed to meet their responsibility of having the truck's brakes inspected every 30 days, as required by state and federal law. A police report on the accident says the brakes were last inspected more than two months before the crash.

Mrs. Bice's husband, Stephen Bice, declined to discuss the settlement, referring comment to his attorney, Joel Abramson of Columbia.

"I think this [settlement] has some justice to it," Mr. Abramson said.

"This was a tragedy to the Bice family, and I don't think [any] amount of money will make them whole again," he said. "This is some satisfaction, but by no means is it a complete one."

Charles Ketterman, a Baltimore attorney for the Bernsteins, said his clients are satisfied with the settlement. The Bernsteins' share will be paid by their insurance company.

"I think it was a fair settlement," Mr. Ketterman said. "Mr. Bernstein is happy to get this matter behind him."

Mr. Bernstein, 37, was sentenced to 22 months in prison and ordered to pay $4,650 in fines last March after his Howard County District Court conviction on 10 criminal charges and traffic violations for the accident.

He was found not guilty of manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Mr. Bernstein is expected to be released from prison next spring, his attorney said.

Mr. Bernstein was traveling east when his truck -- loaded with stone -- collided with three cars, including Mrs. Bice's Subaru. Neither Mr. Bernstein, who was living in Finksburg at the time of the accident, nor the drivers of the other vehicles were seriously injured.

Police investigators learned after the accident that Mr. Bernstein was operating the truck with a license that showed his picture and his brother's name. His own license had been revoked for numerous traffic violations.

The state Motor Vehicle Administration has a 24-page record on Mr. Bernstein, who has been charged with drunken driving three times since 1980, police said.

Mr. Abramson said he expects much of the settlement money to go toward the treatment of Phillip Bice, who suffered a severe head injury in the crash. He has undergone extensive therapy to help recover from his injuries.

Mr. Bice has resigned from his job as head of the department that planned construction projects at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and took a less demanding job as an architectural planner because of his obligations to his son.

"Phillip is a constant reminder to me that joy and despair are two sides of the same coin -- joy that he is alive and there is still hope for his future, despair at what might have been, of what will never be," Mr. Bice told the judge who sentenced Mr. Bernstein last spring.

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