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Driver in fatal crash was in earlier accident

The Baltimore Sun

The man under investigation in a crash that killed a mother and her son last week in Harford County had been involved in another collision less than two hours earlier, police said yesterday.

In the earlier crash, 37-year-old Christopher H. Lentz allegedly drove across the center line of a highway in Joppa in his work van and sideswiped another van occupied by a woman and seven children. He apparently drove on, but his vehicle became disabled a half-mile away and he was issued several traffic citations.

Lentz - who according to court records has a history of drug convictions and driving violations - was behind the wheel of another vehicle, his Jeep Cherokee, about 90 minutes later Friday afternoon when the sport utility vehicle swerved into oncoming traffic on the Bel Air bypass, police said, and the Jeep hit a minivan head-on.

Inside that vehicle was a Baltimore County family. Relatives said yesterday that the family was headed on a camping trip.

"It's a tragedy I will carry for the rest of my life," Michael Loftus, whose daughter Katherine S. Brady was killed, said in a phone interview. "I can't wait for my life to get to that point so I can see her again. Daddy's little girl is daddy's little girl for life."

Police have said they plan to charge Lentz in the fatal crash, adding that they would consult with Harford County prosecutors before filing charges.

Brady, 31, who was in the front passenger seat of the minivan, died in the crash. Also killed was her son, Wilson Brady, 8, a third-grader at St. John the Evangelist School in the Hydes area. The family attended St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church.

The other child in the back seat of the minivan, 2-year-old Ian Brady, was treated at Johns Hopkins Children's Center and released. The children's father, Stephen M. Brady, 32, had been driving.

Loftus said the close-knit family was traveling to a weekend Cub Scout retreat, an outing typical for them. He said his middle daughter spent hours every week bike riding, camping and watching Ravens games with her sons and husband.

Joe Loftus, grandfather of the woman killed in the accident, said the Bradys were a "beautiful family," adding, "They did everything together."

Stephen and Katherine Brady married in 2001 and lived in the house where she grew up, purchasing it from her mother years ago.

The family home is in a quiet Perry Hall neighborhood near Belair Road, with single-family houses that have similar exteriors of red brick and white siding. A wooden sign with the family name hangs from a small lamppost on the compact front lawn of their split-level house.

Two carved pumpkins sit on the front porch, as do two white wicker chairs - one adult-sized, the other a miniature.

Stephen Brady was in serious condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Lentz also was listed in serious condition there. Both had been flown by medevac helicopter to the hospital after the crash during the Friday rush hour.

Lentz has a history of driving offenses, including a conviction for driving under the influence in 1995 and numerous speeding tickets, according to court documents. Lentz's license was suspended at least twice and revoked once, and it appears to have been reinstated with conditions each time, according to files in Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson.

In March 1996, he completed a driver improvement program, and four months later a court ordered that a so-called "interlock" device be placed on his car, rendering it unusable if the device were to detect his having a breath-alcohol content of 0.025 percent or higher. The interlock device was removed in December 1997.

His record also includes convictions for drug offenses in 1992 and 1994, court records show.

On May 2 this year, Lentz was arrested at a Home Depot in Parkville after two small bags of heroin were found on the front seat of his 2004 Jeep Cherokee in the parking lot, according to charging documents. Lentz had been stopped by a security guard after being spotted trying to leave the store pushing a shopping cart with five reels of copper wire worth $1,600, the court records show.

Lentz was charged with theft and possession of a controlled substance. He was found guilty of the drug charge in July in District Court and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but he appealed the conviction and was released from the Baltimore County Detention Center on July 29 on $5,000 bail, records show. His trial is scheduled for Dec. 4.

The divorced, Baltimore-born Lentz, who lived in Pasadena and Dundalk before moving to the Glen Arm area of Baltimore County, worked for 20 years in construction but, the court documents say, his "employment status and history is unstable."

In the first crash Friday, according to a state police report, Lentz was driving a 1999 Chevrolet Express van north on Route 152, north of Greenspring Avenue, about 3:30 p.m. Friday. Lentz's van sideswiped a southbound 2003 Ford van being driven by a 44-year-old Joppa woman, and the Ford went out of control and hit a guardrail, according to the report.

No one was injured in that accident, although the children in the Ford, ages 3 to 16, were taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center for evaluation.

The police report for that accident lists the owner of the Chevrolet van as Michael J. Byrnes. The phone number listed for Byrnes is for Byrnes Electric, an electrical contractor in Bel Air. Calls to the number late yesterday were not immediately returned.

Lentz was charged at the scene with failure to drive right of center, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, failure to give insurance information and failure to control speed to avoid a collision, according to police. Two co-workers picked him up, police said.

It was unclear last night where Lentz was during the time between the two crashes. The fatal three-car crash occurred on a highway that some have described as a dangerous stretch. The bypass skirts the town of Bel Air to the west. Two lanes in either direction are separated only by yellow lines. The speed limit is 50 mph.

In May 2007, one person was killed and another injured on a head-on collision on the bypass.

David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, said the bypass is not unusually prone to problems. From 2005 through 2007, the stretch of road going six-tenths of a mile north and south of Vale Road, the site of Friday's crash, had 24 accidents. That stretch is used by 37,000 vehicles a day, he said.

"Relative to the amount of traffic, an average of eight crashes a year, nothing suggests that engineers would have looked to make improvements," he said.

Ernest A. Lucas, 22, said he was driving south on the Bel Air bypass Friday evening, going home to Kingsville, when he saw a Jeep speeding by him on the shoulder. He said it swerved in front of him, across three lanes of traffic and into the Bradys' van. The impact sent the van spinning and knocked it on its side.

Lucas said he pulled his car over and ran to the accident scene 30 yards away. He helped the driver of a third van involved in the crash, Brian Kearchner, who had stumbled out of his work truck. Lucas said the man told him that he was OK and sent him to the minivan.

Lucas says he heard a baby crying in the back of the minivan. The driver of the minivan, he said, was moaning and seemed to be trying to get free to help his family.

Baltimore Sun reporters Arin Gencer, Nick Madigan and Julie Scharper contributed to this article.

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