Two sentencing hearings reveal impact of fatal accidents One man sentenced to 3 years; the other asks for reduced sentence


The emotional impact from two fatal collisions reverberated through a Carroll County courtroom yesterday.

In choked words, emanating through sobs, friends and relatives of the accident victims and supporters of the defendants sought to explain the unexplainable.

Beverly E. Harner, 43, of Littlestown, Pa., was killed in a two-vehicle collision on Route 97 near Pennsylvania on Oct. 11.

Andrew M. Thompson, 22, of Sykesville and Kimberly Ann Reals, 19, of Mount Airy were killed in a single-car accident off Bloom Road near Muller Road on Oct. 6.

Benjamin F. McCauley IV, 19, of Reisterstown and Brian W. Ridings, 24, of Taylorsville, convicted of manslaughter charges arising from the accidents, were driving after drinking alcohol when the fatal accidents occurred.

In sentencing McCauley to three years in jail in the manslaughter death of Harner, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. noted that often testimony dwells on the defendants with little thought given to those who died.

Burns read aloud from a letter he had received that shared a glimpse of Harner and what her death meant to the daughter of her best friend.

Prosecutor David P. Daggett said the plea agreement -- a 10-year sentence with all but three years suspended -- was a fair sentence, one that Jacqueline Medford of Glen Burnie, who was a passenger in Harner's car, could live with.

Medford, Harner's best friend for 18 years, tearfully recounted hearing her friend scream, "Oh, my God," just before the impact after McCauley's pickup truck crossed the center line and slammed into Harner's Lincoln.

Witnesses told police McCauley had been drinking most of the day and was driving erratically as he tried to pass a vehicle on the right and then crossed a double yellow line to pass on the left before the fatal collision. Because the truck went airborne, state police collision reconstructionists could not determine an exact speed.

"Not counting for skidding and sliding, police said the minimal speed of the truck was 50 mph," Daggett said.

McCauley's blood-alcohol content was 0.13, well above the legal level for driving while intoxicated of 0.10, Daggett said.

"Things won't ever be the same," Medford said. "Beverly drove the handicapped and senior citizens for a living. She was always helping someone."

McCauley broke down, barely able to express his remorse.

"I can't say I'm sorry enough," he said. "No matter what I can say, it hurts everyone."

Ridings knew the feeling. He was in court yesterday, seeking to have his four-year auto manslaughter sentence modified.

He had stood in the courtroom in August, telling Burns, "I am very sorry, but I can't take [what I did] back, and I want to."

Thompson and Reals, who were engaged, were friends of Ridings. They died instantly when the car Ridings was driving left the road and struck a tree.

Ridings' blood-alcohol content was 0.16, Daggett said.

Burns said he would render a written decision on modifying Ridings' sentence.

Richard D. Bennett, a Baltimore attorney representing Ridings, asked Burns to consider that his client suffered brain damage in the accident. He asked that family and friends of Thompson and Reals not take his client's seeming lack of remorse as anything but a result of his brain damage.

Kathy Thompson and Dorothy Reals, mothers of the victims, fought back tears to express their disgust that Ridings was seeking modification of his sentence.

"Brian's attorney spoke of his 'hell,' " Mrs. Reals said. "Brian can escape his, but ours is for an eternity."

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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