Martha J. Proctor told a Talbot County Circuit Court jury here today that she was driving her family to church last Christmas Eve when she saw a car speeding toward her in her lane. She said she only had time to honk her horn and steer her car sharply to the left before the two vehicles collided.
"The next thing I remember, someone was taking me out of my car," Proctor, 45, told the jury. "They told me I had been in a terrible accident. I asked them, 'Where are my children?' and there was silence . . . . "
Two of Proctor's sons--ages 14 and 23--and three grandchildren, 3 years, 19 months and 5 weeks old, were killed in the crash, which took place on Rte. 27 near Mount Airy in Carroll County. Proctor testified she suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured right eye socket.
Kevin Cooper, a 26-year-old carpenter from Glen Burnie, was charged with the five deaths and is on trial on charges including driving while under the influence, homicide by automobile while intoxicated and automobile manslaughter.
Cooper's trial was moved last week from Carroll County to Talbot County, on the Eastern Shore, by Circuit Court Judge Donald J. Gilmore.
Gilmore said he could not find enough jurors in Carroll County who had not been prejudiced by extensive news coverage of the case, one of several cited earlier this year in the Maryland legislature in support of tougher drunk-driving laws.
On the morning of the crash, Proctor--the wife of Col. Richard O. Proctor, a physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps--testified that she and her children had driven to Gaithersburg to buy last-minute Christmas gifts.
They returned to their Clarksburg home in upper Montgomery County and wrapped the gifts, some of which were for her staff at the Westminster United Methodist Church, where she worked part time.
The Proctors left home at 3:30 p.m. to drive 29 miles to the church, where she was in charge of the 6:30 p.m. Christmas pageant "Journey to Bethlehem."
Proctor's voice cracked with emotion during her testimony, particularly when she said her 5-week-old granddaughter, Ruth Ann Jeanette, was to play Baby Jesus and her daughter, Tanya Jeanette, was to be Mary. Her son, Roger, was to be a shepherd and Terry was to play Joseph.
After a quick stop for gasoline, Proctor said she headed down Rte. 27 toward Westminster driving about 45 miles per hour.
"I felt very good about the weather," she testified. "There was no rain, no sleet. I remember thinking to myself, 'This is just perfect for Christmas Eve.' "
Seconds later, as her car crossed over a slight hill, she said, she saw the speeding car. "I said, 'What is he doing in my lane?' I honked my horn, but there was no response. I glanced to my left and it looked like that was my only escape. I turned my wheel to the left as hard as I could . . . . "
Proctor said she next remembers being removed by rescue workers from her car, a six-month-old 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit.
In testimony Friday, bartender Deborah Glacken, called as a government witness, said she served Cooper nine 12-ounce cans of beer at a Christmas party prior to the accident. But when Cooper left the party, Glacken said he did not appear to be drunk.
Cooper's attorneys have said they intend to prove their client was not drunk or speeding at the time of the accident.
Cliburn Lane, a former state trooper who initially interviewed Cooper after the crash, testified today he found a beer can in Cooper's car at the scene and smelled alcohol on his breath when he interviewed him later at the Carroll County General Hospital.