In a court hearing Thursday defined by regret and forgiveness, a Davidsonville man who was driving under the influence when his car struck and killed a road worker outside the Kings Retreat Community in May, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but 15 months suspended.
In suspending more than eight years of the sentence for negligent manslaughter, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge J. Michael Wachs called the move a “significant credit” to Christopher Asher’s efforts to address his alcoholism and use his story to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
On May 17, around 10:40 p.m., Asher, 49, was driving his black Jeep Grand Cherokee on Davidsonville Road toward Kings Retreat Drive, on his way home from a golf outing. According to Assistant State’s Attorney Carolynn Grammas, Asher had closed his tab at a country club lounge less than 15 minutes before killing Lizeth Guzman, a road crew flagger directing traffic on Davidsonville Road.
Less than a mile from Guzman and only a few minutes before the fatal crash, Asher struck the vehicle of an Uber driver who was stopped by another flagger at Palomino Court. Police were called to the scene, but Asher fled before they arrived.
According to Grammas, he continued driving along Davidsonville Road and reached a top speed of 77 mph before he struck Guzman.
Photos presented in court Thursday showed what Guzman, who came to America more than 20 years ago to make money for her family in Costa Rica, was wearing the night she was killed: a high-visibility reflective vest and reflective pants.
Asher continued driving before losing control of the Jeep. He steered off the road, drove through a community sign and stopped after crashing into a tree. When tested by police shortly before midnight, Asher’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.15, nearly twice Maryland’s minimum limit of 0.08 for a driving under the influence charge.
Asher was arrested that night and posted a $25,000 bond on June 3. According to defense attorney Mandeep Chhabra, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings “immediately” after his release. He began inpatient addiction treatment on June 7 at the Ashley Treatment Center in Havre de Grace before starting intensive outpatient treatment a month later.
Asher told Wachs Thursday that he “entirely accepted” responsibility for the crash and for Guzman’s death. He apologized directly to her only son, Daylon Guzman, who flew from Costa Rica to attend the sentencing.
During Asher’s plea hearing in December, where he pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter and causing the death of a vulnerable individual while operating a motor vehicle, Grammas said Guzman’s family did not “want to ruin the defendant’s life” with a harsh prison sentence.
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Using an interpreter, Daylon Guzman told the court about his mother, a caretaker with many friends who, despite the distance between them, made herself available to loved ones at home. He said that while a “great human being has been lost” in his mother, he has asked God for strength since her death and, ultimately, “forgiveness for the person who did this.”
Asher called it a blessing.
The defendant was surrounded by friends and family Thursday, many of whom knew him through his volunteer and advocacy work. One neighbor, who The Capital will not name because he met Asher through Alcoholics Anonymous, testified to his character before sentencing. Telling Wachs he lived less than a mile from Asher but had not met him until after the crash, the neighbor said he was struck by Asher’s vulnerability, composure and acceptance, especially with new members at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The neighbor said it is within Asher’s “nature to help others” and that he “will be an asset to all who meet him.”
Deb Asher, the defendant’s wife of more than two decades, said she was drawn to her husband’s kind heart when they met and that he has never been “more determined to help others.”
Recalling her husband’s interactions with others in need, she said she has fallen in love with him all over again.
Asher will serve his sentence at the Jennifer Road Detention Center, his defense attorneys confirmed, where he will be able to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and continue to speak of his experiences — which Wachs called “a great benefit.”