A former Morgan State University student who was drunk New Year's Day when he plowed into a stalled car on Interstate 95, killing a Gaithersburg man and his 7-year-old daughter, was sentenced to 14 years in prison yesterday after an emotional hearing that included tears, apologies and pleas for a harsh sentence.
Sirron Lamar Farmer, 26, had pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter hours earlier, but the defense and prosecution agreed to a quick sentencing because the victims' relatives, who packed the courtroom, had come from up and down the East Coast.
Farmer dissolved into tears as he faced Ed and Olivia Thomas' family and friends before sentencing.
"I never ever, I never meant for this to happen," he said. "I just wish I'd have hit a tree and killed myself. ... That would have been fine.
"No matter what the court gives me, on Jan. 1, 2000, I got life."
Farmer, a father of three from Northern California, had a 0.25 blood-alcohol level, 2 1/2 times the legal limit for intoxication, when he hit Ed Thomas' BMW, which was parked along the shoulder of southbound I-95 near the Interstate 895 overpass in Howard County.
The impact killed Thomas, 35, who had called for a tow truck, and Olivia, 7, who was visiting from her North Carolina home for the holidays and had been sleeping under a blanket in the back seat.
The two had just left a New Year's Eve service at Living Word Christian Center in Baltimore, where Thomas was a deacon and they had prayed for the coming year, family members said. As they drove back to Thomas' Gaithersburg home, they called his mother on a cellular phone to wish her a happy New Year and to tell her they loved her.
Then Ed Thomas called his older brother, Brian, in Adelphi to tell him he was having car trouble.
Thomas pulled off the roadway, switched on his flashers and called a tow truck, and a state police lieutenant stopped to make sure the two were OK before leaving, according to court testimony.
Farmer, who had been drinking champagne at home that night, got lost after he left his friends during the early-morning hours New Year's Day, according to testimony. He was driving south on I-95 when he rear-ended the BMW with his rental car.
"He saw to it that Ed and Olivia would never pray again for anyone," Brian Thomas said before sentencing. "He made certain that they would never come home again."
Ed Thomas was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, a religious man who resembled his father, his family said. Olivia was a bright girl who, born at 26 weeks weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces, fought for life early.
"My daughter had potential, and I wanted to see it one day," said Olivia's mother, Paula Grange, who lives outside Raleigh, N.C., and was divorced from Ed Thomas. She propped on her lap a framed picture of Olivia wearing a cheerleading uniform as she spoke through tears. "I had dreams and hopes for my little girl beyond Barbies and toys and Easy Bake Ovens."
As she pleaded for leniency for her client, defense attorney Margaret A. Mead lost her composure and grabbed a tissue. Farmer, whom she called an intelligent, compassionate and caring man, has said repeatedly that he would change places with Ed and Olivia Thomas if he could, Mead said.
Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure imposed a 20-year sentence - suspended after 14 years served - and five years of supervised probation, saying that Farmer used "extremely poor judgment" and that she could not overlook that two people had died.
Brian Thomas said later that he was satisfied with the sentence.
"I felt sorry for him. ... He's such a young guy," he said. "It's harsh enough."
Prosecutor Mary Murphy said Farmer was charged with driving while intoxicated in California in 1998; the charge is pending.