Alan. B. Cole, the 19-year-old driver of a pickup truck that crashed last April, killing 10 teen-agers in Maryland's worst traffic accident in a decade, was given a three-year suspended sentence in Circuit Court here today.
While Cole will not go to jail, he will be assigned to a program of psychotherapy, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and volunteer work as a condition of the probation granted by Circuit Court Judge Samuel W. Barrick.
Cole, who was convicted of 10 counts of automobile manslaughter here two months ago, appeared relieved as the judge explained the sentence. Cole embraced his parents with tears in his eyes.
Some of the parents of accident victims who had come to see the sentencing were outraged that Cole escaped jail.
"You call that justice?" cried Bruce Kusaj, whose 15-year-old son Clark was one of the teen-age passengers killed when Cole's pickup truck crashed into the trees along Patuxent Road in Anne Arundel County at 9:30 p.m. on April 23. "Where the hell is the sympathy for the 10 dead kids? It's a goddam shame."
Like Kusaj, the parents of Denise and Barry DeAoun were watching from the courtroom's gallery but they said they felt no anger at the judge's decision not to send Cole to jail.
"That wouldn't accomplish anything," said Paul DeAoun. "It's not going to bring anyone back."
Rita DeAoun said that she and her husband work as family ministry specialists with the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and have learned to extend compassion to Cole despite the loss of their 16-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.
Calling the judge's decision "Fair," Mary Taylor, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the crash, said, "I think it's far better for a person to be rehabilitated than to [spend time] in jail. I think, however, Alan has to realize the seriousness of his actions that night. I don't think his [suspended] sentence takes away from his realizing that."
"All I can say is that I'm terribly disappointed," said Gary Neal, whose 15-year-old daughter, Tina, died of injuries sustained in the accident about three weeks after the crash.
"He's been let off scot-free," said Clark Kusaj's aunt, Joyce Pelzer. "I hope the judge can sleep well . . . I don't think he had any compassion for the families of the children who died."
In the courtroom this morning, Judge Barrick said he relied heavily on a presentencing report prepared by the Maryland State Department of Parole and Probation that termed Cole a "passive, dependent person with depressive features." The report recommended against putting him in prison.
"Many people have a direct concern with what this court does," said Barrick, as he sentenced Cole. "But 10 lives have been lost, and it doesn't do anything to ruin another."
The National Transportation Safety Board, in a report that was not allowed as evidence in Cole's trial, said witnesses saw Cole drinking tequila and beer and smoking marijuana on the day of the crash. However, the jury acquitted Cole of committing homicide with a motor vehicle while intoxicated.
Cole is scheduled to begin a month of drug and alcohol education at the Tuerk House in Baltimore this month. Thereafter, he will work 20 hours a week with accident victims and handicapped people at the John F. Kennedy Institute in Baltimore for the remainder of his three-year sentence. He also will undergo psychotherapy with doctors at nearby Johns Hopkins Institute.
Carlyle Barton Jr., president of the Kennedy Institute's board of trustees, said the institute has so far not accepted Cole as a volunteer, and its administrator already has indicated his opposition to the idea. But Barton said he will meet with the judge later this week to try to work out some agreement to satisfy Cole's probation requirements.
Barrick also levied $400 in fines for lesser traffic charges on which Cole was convicted.
"I can't second-guess the judge," said Assistant State's Attorney Scott G. Patterson, who did not specifically request a jail term for Cole, but asked for a sentence that would help curtail the number of alcohol related highway deaths. "Anything the judge did you could have found some justification for."
One of Cole's attorneys told the judge that the Baltimore youth already was carrying a "life sentence of the memory" of the accident.
"He is a marked man," said Stanley S. Cohen. "He will be known the rest of life as Alan Cole, the driver of the pickup that was involved in the largest accident in Maryland."
After sentencing, the defense attorneys said they were pleased with the outcome.
"I thought anything but jail would be proper," Cohen said. "But I can understand people being upset because of the magnitude of the deaths."
After the sentencing, Cole left the courthouse quickly with a somber expression on his face and uttering no word as reporters crowding around asking questions. He climbed into a customized van with his parents and returned to Baltimore.