By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
A 47-year-old Annapolis woman whose pickup truck rammed into the back of a Volkswagen, killing two 16-year-old passengers, pleaded guilty yesterday to two counts of automobile manslaughter.
Linda Lee Nichols's blood alcohol content was .16, twice the legal limit in Maryland, at the time of the Aug. 20 crash, according to prosecutors. She was traveling 55 to 57 mph on a Severna Park road where the speed limit is 45 mph, and she did not hit the brakes before her Chevrolet Silverado smashed into the back of a Volkswagen Rabbit convertible, which was stopped at a red light about 10 p.m., they said.
David Snyder, who had just made the varsity soccer team at the Severn School, and Kevin Durm, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, were killed. The driver of the Volkswagen, Nicholas Kirby, also 16, suffered a head injury but was released from the hospital after two days.
After the crash, prosecutors said, Nichols walked to a nearby 7-Eleven to get a pack of gum and then borrowed a cell phone from another customer to call her daughter. Gary Bernstein, Nichols's attorney, said in an interview last night that Nichols has no recollection of buying gum. She called her daughter to let her know what had happened, Bernstein said.
When police arrived, Nichols was waiting at her truck, and officers noticed that her speech was slurred and her balance unsteady. She was arrested at the scene. Bernstein said Nichols was on her way home from a friend's birthday party, where she drank five beers over about four hours.
Nichols, who sobbed throughout the proceeding in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 2. She left the courtroom without commenting yesterday.
Bernstein told the judge yesterday that although Nichols is "not remotely as impacted" as the victims' families, "she is as destroyed as anybody I've represented on this side of the table."
During the hearing, Nichols, a mother and grandmother, glanced at one of the boys' mothers and started crying, Bernstein said, "because [Nichols] could see the pain she was going through."
Dozens of the victims' friends and family members crammed the courtroom for the hearing, many of them crying and wearing buttons with pictures of the teenagers. A court spokeswoman said the families were too distraught to comment.
The three youths grew up playing basketball and soccer together. On the night of the crash, they went for a late dinner at Wendy's and were on their way home when Nichols's truck smashed into them.