Repeat impaired driver to plead guilty in crash with judge who spared him in '98

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 14, 2010; B04

A drunken driving suspect who slammed his Chevy Tahoe into a car driven by a judge who years earlier had spared him jail time in an impaired driving case will plead guilty Wednesday in the latest incident, according to Montgomery County Circuit Court records.

Rene E. Fernandez, 45, will plead guilty to one count of causing a life-threatening injury while intoxicated, according to the records. The charge relates to the multitude of injuries suffered by the judge's wife, who was in the front seat of their 2001 Honda Accord on the afternoon of Aug. 21, 2009.

The remaining charges against Fernandez would be dropped, according to the plea agreement. Prosecutors say that sentencing guidelines call for up to two years in prison.

The agreement is the latest twist in a case noted for its tragic coincidences going back to 1998. At the time, Fernandez appeared before two Montgomery judges on drunken driving charges from different incidents. He pleaded guilty in both cases. The first judge sentenced him to probation before judgment, in which the matter is not treated as a conviction. The second judge, Edwin Collier, sentenced Fernandez to 60 days in jail but suspended the term.

Eleven years later, Collier, 86, and his wife, Ellen, 82, were driving in Gaithersburg when Fernandez veered into their lane and struck them head-on, according to a Montgomery County police report. Ellen Collier suffered a compound leg fracture, a fractured hip, fractured ribs and neck injuries and must use a walker, according to the Colliers' attorney and police reports. Edwin Collier suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs and must use a cane.

After that crash, Fernandez was tested and found to have more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system.

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