A former Laurel City police officer, whom police originally declined to charge after his involvement in a fatal automobile accident last September, was convicted yesterday of automobile manslaughter and other charges by an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury.
The officer, Gary Lee Harris, 33, who has since resigned from the force, faces up to three years in prison and a fine on the charges.
Harris was involved in an accident last fall in which the car he was driving crashed into another vehicle, killing a young Hyattsville woman and injuring her finance. An Anne Arundel County police officer investigating the accident recognized Harris -- who had once served on the county police force -- and declined to arrest him because he felt it would be a conflict of interest.
Prosecutors later charged Harris after The Washington Post published an account of the incident. Assistant State's Attorney Pat Bell, who prosecuted the case, said he was satisfied with the outcome of the three-day trial.
"I didn't think the fact that he was a police officer meant he should have been treated any differently," Bell said.
Attorneys for Harris -- who is free on bond -- said they were considering whether to ask for a new trial or to appeal the case. His sentencing was set for May 12.
The accident involving Harris's car occurred on a Saturday night, Sept. 15, and resulted in the death of 22-year-old Theresa Lynn Dugan. According to police accounts, Dugan was a passenger in a car driven by her finance, William M. Fallica. As Fallica started a turn on Maryland Rte. 198 in Laurel, Harris's car -- which he was operating at night without lights -- swerved down the road, and slammed broadside into Fallica's car.
Harris was off duty at the time.
Dugan was taken by helicopter to the shock trauma unit of University Hospital in Baltimore, where she was pronounced dead an hour later. Fallica was treated at a local hospital and released.
Moments after the accident, Anne Arundel police arrived at the scene and discovered that Harris had been involved in the accident, Harris had worked on the Anne Arundel force from 1972 to 1975.
Although the police report filed later stated that Harris had been drinking before the accident, he was not given a breathalyzer test to determine if he was intoxicated, nor was he arrested or charged by the officer on the scene.
It was only after reports of the incident were published that county prosecutors began looking into the case. They eventually charged Harris with seven traffic violations, including man-slaughter by automobile, driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol, reckless driving, negligent driving, and other lesser charges.
Harris was found guilty yesterday of six of the charges. He was found innocent of the charge of driving while impaired.
The FBI also investigated the case to determine if the failure to arrest Harris at the scene of the accident had violated the civil rights of the victims, but made no such conclusion.
Dugan's family gathered outside the courtroom yesterday after the jury announced its verdict. "My heart just dropped into my stomach," said Dugan's mother, Ann. "Everyone just grabbed each other and kissed each other and cried."
Bill Fallica said reliving the accident during the trial was difficult. "What can you really do? Whatever was the outcome, you couldn't bring Theresa back."