The footbridge case; Beltway fatality: Legislators should close gap in the law that deterred filing of criminal charge.


WHEN a too-tall truckload toppled a footbridge over the Beltway in June, killing one motorist and injuring three, many people thought that the truck driver should face criminal charges. Maryland's lieutenant governor was one of them. The Baltimore County state's attorney recently determined, however, that under Maryland law no charges can be filed against driver Paul C. McIntosh.

That decision angered people, including the family of Robert Taylor, the man killed. The prosecutor's hands were tied, however: Maryland statutes classify various behaviors that are potentially criminal while operating a truck -- driving while drunk or drugged, weaving from lane to lane or driving too fast. But having an improperly secured load is not included.

The only charges lodged against Mr. McIntosh are administrative, with maximum fines of $880.

That should change. The General Assembly needs to redefine the actions that constitute reckless endangerment while driving.

Every year dozens of truckers -- as well as motorists hauling furniture or home-repair supplies -- lose their loads on state highways. Rarely do they cause death or injury. But prosecutors should have the legal tools to decide whether one's carelessness in loading cargo jeopardizes others.

Mr. McIntosh and his employer, T.T.K. Transport, of Ontario, Canada, are not likely to get off scot-free. They may be liable for millions of dollars in civil damages from victims or their families. The State Highway Administration wants reimbursement of the roughly $300,000 cost of demolishing and removing the remains of the bridge near Arbutus.

Those penalties, however, don't address the issue of judging whether irresponsibility cost a life. The accident revealed a gap in the law that lawmakers must close.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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