Man Whose Truck Killed Officer Had Suspended Driver's License
By Christian Davenport and Eileen Rivers
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 22, 2004; Page B01
Albert Gene Antonelli, the 32-year-old Queenstown, Md., man whose pickup truck rammed a cruiser Tuesday and killed a Maryland Transportation Authority police officer, has a history of traffic violations and had pleaded guilty to possessing drug paraphernalia.
Motor vehicle records show that his license was suspended because he failed to pay traffic fines and child support and did not appear at court hearings.
"He should not have been on the road," said Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney. "He clearly did not care. He thumbed his nose at the system and did what he wanted to do."
Authorities said the accident happened about 10 a.m. on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County. Officer Duke G. Aaron III had just issued a ticket, and his unmarked cruiser was parked on the side of the road's westbound lanes near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge when Antonelli's 1998 Dodge Ram pickup rear-ended it. Aaron, who was in the driver's seat, died that afternoon of injuries from the accident.
Police investigators, who returned yesterday to the scene of the crash, said it could be weeks before they decide whether to file charges against Antonelli.
Yesterday, Antonelli's family said he was devastated.
"He's feeling so badly," said his mother, Carole Antonelli. "He said, 'Mom, I wish I could say something to the [officer's] family.' "
Carole Antonelli said she did not know why her son was driving with a suspended license. She referred questions to Andrew White, his attorney. White said Antonelli has never been convicted of drunken driving and had no points on his license. He said his client "did not know his license was suspended because he had, weeks before the accident, gone down to pay outstanding fines."
Court records show that Antonelli had been charged with several traffic violations, including driving with a suspended registration. He failed to appear in court on that charge and others, including making an improper turn. Court records show he pleaded guilty to negligent driving in 2002 and had been arrested on drug charges that year.
"Mr. Antonelli is distraught," White said. "He feels absolutely terrible about what happened. The thoughts and prayers of Mr. Antonelli and his family goes out to Officer Aarons's family and the MTA family. This was a tragic accident."
He said Antonelli was driving from his Queenstown home to a painting job in Annapolis at the time of the accident, which closed the westbound lanes of Route 50 for 3 1/2 hours, creating a traffic jam that backed up over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Authorities continued their accident investigation yesterday, taking measurements and interviewing witnesses, McLhinney said. Officials are also performing toxicology tests to see whether alcohol or drugs were in Antonelli's system at the time of the crash, he said. Once investigators complete their probe, they will turn their findings over to the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, which will decide whether to file criminal charges.
That decision could take as long as 60 days because of the time it takes to get toxicology results back from the laboratory, said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the county's top prosecutor.
McLhinney said the tight-knit department was grieving for Aaron, 29, who lived in Pasadena with his wife of four years. Aaron was shy but tough, department officials said, with a taste for fast cars like his Corvette and for the lyrical ballads of Hank Williams Jr. A 10-year force veteran, Aaron spent his entire law enforcement career with the MTA police and was named officer of the year three times.
There is "a lot of sadness, a lot of grief," department spokeswoman Catherine Leahan said.
McLhinney said yesterday that he was promoting Aaron posthumously to the rank of corporal. Aaron's photo and black ribbons will be posted at tollbooths at the Bay Bridge and at other spots that fall under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Authority police, Leahan said. Aaron's funeral is scheduled for Monday at the McCully-Polyniak Funeral Home in Pasadena.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company