As relatives of a Harford County girl killed in a hit-and-run accident held each other and cried quietly, a 23-year-old Mexican national pleaded innocent yesterday to charges arising from the March incident in downtown Baltimore.
Guillermo Diaz of the 400 block of Bigley Ave. in Halethorpe entered his plea on charges of vehicular manslaughter in the death of Annie Cumpston and attempted first-degree murder through an interpreter before Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard.
If convicted, Diaz could receive life in prison for the attempted-murder charge and 10 years for the vehicular manslaughter charge. According to the state's attorney's office, Diaz is an illegal immigrant, but a federal immigration spokesman said this week that the Department of Homeland Security would not become involved until after the criminal case is settled.
In the cavernous marble-and-tile courtroom, friends and family of Annie Cumpston and Diaz watched, straining to hear the proceeding.
Tom Cumpston of Jarrettsville, Annie's father, rubbed his thumbs along the wooden frame of his daughter's photograph as he listened. His sister, Lorene Tompros of Ellicott City, his father, Ollie Cumpston of Jarrettsville, and his brother-in-law, Daniel McGann of Churchville, pressed in close around him. Several wore laminated paper buttons bearing the 6-year-old's blue-eyed, smiling face that read "In Loving Memory Annie."
Nearby, Diaz's brother, Ignacio Diaz, watched with concern as his brother spoke to an interpreter in front of the judge's bench.
"He's been respectful to everyone," Ignacio Diaz said afterward through a friend, Carlos Mata. "He's never had a problem with nobody. He's here just to help his family [in Mexico] as much as possible."
The brothers live together on Bigley Avenue, Ignacio Diaz said, adding that his brother has been in the United States for about four years and is a self-employed construction worker.
"He feels sorry for the loss of the family," Diaz said, adding that their parents, who live in Mexico, were also sad.
Mata and his wife, Christina, also live in Halethorpe. She said Guillermo Diaz had lived with them previously for about four months. "I knew he was never that kind of person. I know he's feeling very sorry inside," she said, adding that she speaks regularly with Diaz, who has been held without bond in the Baltimore City Detention Center since the incident.
Mata said the incident was a "horrible accident," but she feels that Diaz is being singled out unfairly. "Accidents do happen all the time," she said, adding, "He's our friend. We'll be here to continue to support him."
The accident happened March 22 as the Cumpston family - Tom, his wife, Megan, and their four girls, Susie, 8, Alice, 4, Madelyn, 18 months, and Annie, were leaving a circus performance at First Mariner Arena.
According to court records, a 1989 Chevrolet pickup truck struck Annie Cumpston as they crossed the street at Lombard Street and Hopkins Plaza. She died that evening at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
After the child was struck, the driver backed the truck up and fled, according to charging documents. Witnesses Ryan Jones of Dundalk and David Terrance of Silver Spring chased the truck, and Jones attempted to stop the driver, became caught in the door of the truck and was dragged down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard before he was able to free himself.
At his arrest, Diaz had no driver's license, the license tags on his truck were suspended, and his blood-alcohol level was 0.07 percent, court records say. The state limit is 0.08.
The trial date, originally set for Sept. 12, was changed yesterday to Oct. 15 because of scheduling conflicts with three witnesses, said Assistant State's Attorney Roberta Siskind, who is prosecuting the case.
Outside Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse on Calvert Street, McGann said the family would not comment on the court case.
But Tompros held up a school photograph of Annie, who was a kindergartner at St. Margaret School in Bel Air, and said, "We don't want her death to be in vain. We love her very much."
"She was our little angel," said Tom Cumpston.