Md. driver accused of hitting judge who suspended DWI term in 1998

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 10, 2010

The tragedy of it all was immediately clear: A suspected drunk driver, at 3 in the afternoon, swings his Chevy Tahoe into oncoming traffic.

"He's going to hit us!" Ellen Collier, 81, told her husband, Edwin, 85, who was driving their 2001 Honda Accord.

The strange coincidence took longer to sort out: The Honda's driver, retired Montgomery County District judge Edwin Collier, had presided over thousands of drunken-driving cases, including one in 1998 involving the Tahoe's driver. Collier had spared him jail time, even though the man had been arrested on drinking-and-driving charges twice in three months.

"It's just a total irony," John Kudel, an attorney for the Colliers, said Friday. "This shouldn't happen to anyone. It certainly shouldn't have happened to them."

In the latest case, the man driving the Tahoe -- Rene E. Fernandez, 45 -- is due in court Wednesday to face trial on eight charges related to the August crash, including causing life-threatening injuries while intoxicated.

Ellen Collier, who is now 82, suffered a compound leg fracture, fractured ribs, a fractured hip and neck injuries, Kudel said. She has had five operations, including one to fuse vertebrae in her neck, and must use a walker. Edwin Collier, now 86 and who as a retired judge was brought back to hear cases as recently as last year, suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs. He must use a cane.

The diminished mobility forced the couple to move to a retirement community from their home in Bethesda. "Their whole life has changed irreparably," he said

Fernandez was barely hurt. At the crash scene, he walked about in flip-flops, grinned widely and seemed unconcerned about the Colliers' injuries as other motorists rushed to their aide, according to Montgomery police reports.

Fernandez was tested at more than twice the legal limit for alcohol, the reports say.

His attorney, John Severt, who represented him in 1998 as well, declined to comment.

Kudel said the Colliers did not want to be interviewed for this article.

Cases from 1998

Back in 1998, Fernandez was a 33-year-old employee of a restaurant in Gaithersburg. About 2 a.m. Jan. 21, a police officer saw him make an errant right turn in a station wagon, spin out of control and stop. At a police station, Fernandez's blood-alcohol level registered 0.14, over the legal limit.

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