Ex-officer admitted fatal crash was his fault, witness says

A newly graduated Baltimore County police officer who was driving a car that struck a utility pole, killing a fellow rookie and injuring another, said at the scene that he was at fault but that he had consumed only three beers, according to testimony yesterday.

Officer Steven C. Price, who answered the 1 a.m. call for the accident in the 4600 block of Ridge Road in Fullerton Oct. 7, testified that Warren W. McNicholas Jr. said, "It's my fault. It's all my fault."


Mr. McNicholas, 25, who has resigned from the police force, is charged with automobile manslaughter, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated, driving while intoxicated, speeding, reckless driving and other, lesser offenses.

Officer Price said he arrived to find the front-seat passenger, Officer Scott Michael Kern, 23, dead. Officer Michael B. Koffenberger, 23, who was trapped in the rear of the 1993 Ford Probe, was taken by helicopter to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.


Officer Price said Mr. McNicholas told him that he had consumed three beers and was speeding as they were on their way home. The defendant's speech was not slurred, he said.

Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. denied a pretrial motion by defense attorney Gary S. Bernstein challenging state toxicology laboratory practices. The denial enabled prosecutors to introduce evidence of the defendant's 0.15 percent breath alcohol test result. Mr. McNicholas chose a nonjury trial before Judge Smith.

Officer Koffenberger, who was sharing a White Marsh townhouse with Mr. McNicholas at the time of the accident, testified that they met Officer Kern, who lived nearby with his wife, about 9 p.m.

He said the three, celebrating their first week on the job, went to three bars, with the defendant driving.

He remembered being trapped in the car and hearing the sound of the helicopter before blacking out, Officer Koffenberger said. He regained consciousness at the hospital, where he was placed in a body cast for multiple broken bones.

Officer Price said the utility pole was "completely severed" and that the Probe was on a lawn between two houses. He said he smelled alcohol on Mr. McNicholas.

"He told me he was a police officer -- they were all police officers and just recently graduated from the Baltimore County Police Academy," Officer Price recalled. "He was highly upset . . . asking me whether everybody was OK."

Cpl. Richard Esenwine of the Eastern Traffic Division testified that he smelled alcohol when Mr. McNicholas was taken into custody. The officer's speech and gait seemed normal, the corporal said.