Cpl. Courtney G. Brooks left his new home in Hampstead on Dec. 31, 2007, wearing his pressed uniform, leather boots and black nylon belt.
Kerri J. King left her home in Elkton on the same day wearing pajama bottoms with fruit slice imprints, green slippers shaped like frogs and a black spaghetti tank top with "Lust" spelled out in rhinestones across her chest.
Brooks arrived at Exit 53 on Interstate 95, where he voluntarily relieved a tired colleague and stood on the highway to prevent trucks from entering Baltimore during the New Year's fireworks celebration.
King showed up at a strip club on The Block where she danced and told the doorman, "I'm here to party."
Brooks carried his gun and department-issued flashlight. King had a bottle of vodka and three condoms.
Their distinctly different worlds collided at 11:17 p.m. when King, driving her green Ford Explorer on northbound I-95, veered to the left to avoid getting onto the I-395 spur that goes into downtown, ran over 16 lighted flares while traveling 44.77 mph and struck Brooks with the left side of her vehicle.
Brooks, a 13-year veteran with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, was thrown 71.9 feet across the interstate and died almost instantly.
Assistant State's Attorney Theresa Shaffer offered this detailed account yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court as King pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. Judge Thomas J.S. Waxter sentenced King to 16 years in prison.
Shaffer's recounting of the horrific details took nearly 45 minutes. She led the judge and Brooks' family through the days and lives of both suspect and victim, letting their divergent paths speak for themselves.
Brooks had just asked his girlfriend and mother of two of his children to marry him - he proposed in the cemetery next to the gravestones marking the spot his parents are buried, and had the ceremony planned for a historic Baltimore church his grandparents still attend.
The officer's uncle and godfather, grandmother, sister and his fiancee spoke on his behalf, choking back tears as they recalled how Brooks, affectionately known as "Spankey," wrote poems and played pranks, how he talked his sister, Kelly Tucker, through hard times. Tucker said simply, "He was just a great person to have in your life."
Waxter turned to King, who stared straight ahead, and said, "She is going to suffer, and under these circumstances, she should."
The chief of the Transportation Authority police, Marcus Brown, sat in the front row and, after listening to Shaffer's retelling of the deadly day, said he was relieved the family was spared a trial. He noted that 16 years for manslaughter is a hefty sentence and said, "I hope this becomes the standard."
It was evident from Shaffer's opening statement that police and prosecutors had built a detailed case of King's night of partying, down to her DNA found on a smudge on the neck of the vodka bottle.
Had there been a trial, witnesses who encountered King before the crash would've included a dancer who saw her stumble up the stairs at the Chez Joey strip club and throw up in a bucket while sitting on a toilet; a waiter at Uno Chicago Grill who stopped serving her alcohol and repeatedly told her and a friend to quiet down; and an attendant who cleaned her vomit from a parking machine.
After the officer was struck, witnesses would've included three young women in a car behind King who saw her tap her brakes but then speed up; a man heading home to New Jersey who chased her to a toll plaza and wrote down her license plate number; a clerk who accepted her $50 bill for the $2 toll; a "churchwoman" who saw her inspecting the damage to her car on Mulberry Street while people were getting out of a midnight Mass; a Royal Farms clerk who sold her cigarettes and saw her damaged car; and customers at a truck stop near her home where she dumped her damaged vehicle.
Just before a sheriff's deputy led King away in handcuffs, the judge gave her a chance to speak. Her attorney, who had been silent for the entire proceeding, asked only that wrapped Christmas gifts that were in her car when police seized it two years ago be returned to her children.
Talk with Peter Hermann about crime through the Baltimore Crime Beat blog at baltimoresun.com/crime