The Glen Burnie carpenter accused of drunk driving in the highway deaths of five members of one family last Christmas Eve testified today he does not think he is guilty as charged, but told a jury here he would take the place of the victims if he could.
Kevin Cooper, 26, said that he drank seven beers between 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. last Dec. 24, but that he did not feel drunk when he left a Christmas party. Twenty minutes later, on Rte. 27 near Mt. Airy in Carroll County, Cooper's car crashed head-on into a car driven by Martha Proctor of Clarksburg.
The collision killed five members of the Proctor family who were enroute from their home in upper Montgomery County to a church Christmas pageant. The victims were Mrs. Proctor's sons, ages 23 and 14, and grandchildren, ages 3 years, 19 months and 5 weeks, the youngest of whom was to be baby Jesus in the church service.
Cooper is charged with five counts of automobile manslaughter, five counts of homicide by automobile while intoxicated, reckless driving and failure to keep to the right. The trial was moved here to the Eastern Shore two weeks ago after Judge Donald J. Gilmore was unsuccessful in his efforts to find an impartial jury in Carroll County.
"I just wish it could be all done over," Cooper said calmly. "That it was me that passed away rather than the people in the Proctor car." Cooper added that he was "extremely sorry" for what had happened. His wife, Roberta, and mother were in the courtroom.
In response to a question from his attorney, D. Christopher Ohly, Cooper said, "I don't feel I'm guilty of the charges, no."
Cooper said the accident and its aftermath "upset me very greatly. Ever since the whole occurrence, besides having a great financial burden that will take a long time to pay, I have had nightmares about the occurrence."
Cooper, who wore a beige suit and appeared to be on the verge of tears twice during his testimony, told the Talbot County Circuit Court jury that while the beer made him "feel good," he suffered no disabling effects from the alcohol.
Cooper testified the glare of the afternoon sun was on his windshield and he felt his 1969 Plymouth station wagon shift to the left as he rounded a slight curve in the road. The accident occurred, Cooper said, when he steered his car to the right to correct its direction.
"As I was doing that steering to the right , I heard a horn," said Cooper, testifying that he was traveling 50 miles per hour, the speed limit in that area. In a calm voice, he added, "I didn't see another car. But the horn was ahead of me that I heard . . . .
"I saw a white flash and somebody's face . . . then we collided."
Cooper, who said he suffered a broken back, several broken ribs and a concussion, told the eight-woman, four-man jury he next remembered waking up in a woman's arms and asking about the condition of the passengers in the other car, a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit.
Cooper said he returned to his job two and a half months after the accident. While he was in the hospital, Cooper said his father died while enroute to visit him.
Driver Martha J. Proctor, who suffered major injuries, testified last week that when she saw a car speeding toward her in her lane she only had time to honk her horn and steer sharply to the left before the collision.
Prosecution witnesses have testified that a test of Cooper's blood one hour and 25 minutes after the accident showed a blood alcohol concentration of .12.
Under cross examination by Carroll County State's Attorney Thomas Hickman, Cooper denied he told Maryland State Police Cpl. Dennis Murphy that he caught himself "dozing at the wheel" several times before the accident, as Murphy testified earlier.
When questioned about other statements he gave to police and medical staff at Carroll County General Hospital after the crash, Cooper skirted accusations that he was intoxicated or negligent in the collision by saying he could not remember the statements because he was under medication at the time.