Man to serve 6 months for drunken driving slaying

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The man who crashed into a mini-van carrying three girls home from a McDonald's just over a year ago -- killing one of them and leading a community to demand tighter drunken driving laws -- was sentenced yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Thomas Francis George, a 62-year-old employee of the U.S. Naval Academy, was ordered to spend two months in jail and four months in detention at home and to complete 400 hours of community service. George of the 700 block of Red Cedar Road of Annapolis is to be on probation for five years.

He pleaded guilty last June to homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol. Twelve-year-old Anne Kristen Davis suffered fatal injuries in the crash.

George refused to take a blood alcohol test, but his refusal -- and the death of Anne -- led finally to the closing of a legal loophole targeted in vain for years by law enforcement agencies and others.

Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. issued the sentence after hearing statements from the girl's mother, Susan A. Edkins of Arnold, and from Anne's father, Peter A. Davis of Seymour, Ill.

Mr. Davis, a university professor, delivered a scathing attack on the criminal justice system. He pleaded for a sentence severe enough "not only to punish appropriately and effectively but to deter others from killing while drunk."

He directed his comments in open court to Judge Thieme but also to George, who sat at a table only a few feet away.

"At 61 years of age he should have known better than to drive home drunk. And in one important way he did know better -- he knew better than to submit to a blood alcohol test, he knew how . . . to manipulate the system," said Mr. Davis.

He was referring to George's refusal after the crash to take the blood alcohol test, the results of which would have shown how much drinking he had done and might have permitted a more serious charge to be sustained in court.

Police officials say the test is increasingly refused, despite the automatic license revocation that follows, because offenders realize that the results of a test could make it harder for them to escape a severe penalty.

Formerly, state law permitted a suspected drunken driver to evade the test unless his or her action contributed to an immediate death. The test must be administered within two hours to be valid as an indicator of the driver's condition at the time of the crash. Anne, flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital by helicopter, lived almost a full day.

A law that went into effect Oct. 1 makes the test mandatory in any crash where a "life threatening injury" occurs.

Judge Thieme pointed out that "the state tolerates a certain level of drinking and driving." Illegality occurs only when a certain blood alcohol level is reached, he noted.

"Maybe," he said, "the law should say no drinking and driving." As it is now, he said he is obliged to make his sentence conform to the law and to sentencing in similar cases.

Asked if he wished to comment, George said, "I'm sorry. But it wasn't my fault." Then he wept.

George's lawyer, Joel Katz, said his client is filled with remorse and is not a bad person. Several members of the Elks Club where George said he had been drinking the day of the crash were in court yesterday to attest to his good works.

Mr. Katz also attempted to suggest that his client was innocent. But he was stopped immediately.

"Excuse me," Judge Thieme said, "your client pled guilty." George had entered a so-called Alford plea, which concedes that the state has sufficient evidence to convict.

"A family has been destroyed and Mr. George has been [damaged] as well. Not to the same extent, but he has to live with this for the rest of his life," Judge Thieme said.

"We have our sentence," Ms. Edkins told the judge, "a lifetime without Annie."

With the absence of the test data and George's clean driving record before the accident, the sentence was appropriate and fair, according to the prosecutor, Thomas J. Pryal.

A presentence report had recommended only home detention, but some jail time was essential, Mr. Pryal said. "Someone died."

A special someone, a gifted writer and a thoughtful friend, Anne's classmates at Magothy River Middle School said.

"Even a year in jail would be so insignificant in comparison to the pain we've had to go through and to the loss of Anne," said Erin Scheide, one of Anne's classmates who was a leader in the successful effort to lobby the General Assembly for passage of the loophole-closing law.

Cassie Weitzen, 12, who suffered a broken pelvis in the crash, was visiting in Arnold when the accident occurred. She and her parents traveled from their home in Charlotte, N.C., for the sentencing.

"People are just going to [drink and drive] more if they think they can get away with it," she said.

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