A Beltsville woman was convicted yesterday on two counts of automobile homicide while intoxicated, for killing two young Bowie girls in a traffic accident in Prince George's County last August.
Circuit Judge James H. Taylor ordered Cheryle Roxanne White, 34, a mother of three children currently working as a waitress, to surrender to sheriffs on Thursday evening to wait in jail for her April 15 sentencing. She could receive two years in prison on each conviction.
The victims' mother, hoping the jury would find White guilty of motor vehicle manslaughter, which carries up to a five-year sentence, burst into tears when the jury announced its decision.
Lida Lawson, the mother, had told the jury of finding herself beside her dead 7-year-old daughter Jacqueline on the shoulder of I-95, near the Beltway intersection in Beltsville. She later learned her 12-year-old daughter Coleen had died in the car.
Lawson and her daughters had just started a trip to Cincinnati, and she had pulled over to the shoulder to check her directions. According to testimony, White was returning home from a party and a card game at a friend's house and swerved across three lanes and struck the Lawson car from behind.
A blood test on White several hours after the accident showed a blood-alcohol content of .14, and experts testified it would have been about .20 at the time of the crash. The legal intoxication level begins at .13 in Maryland.
While defense attorney Joseph A. DePaul did not dispute that his client was legally drunk when she crashed into the Lawsons' car, he argued the accident may have been caused by a faulty brake shoe. Evidence produced during the trial showed that the front left brake shoe of White's 10-year-old car had been contaminated with oil, and White told state police after the crash that she had applied her brakes, but they had not worked.
If jurors decided the brakes had been working, DePaul said, they should find her guilty of automobile homicide while intoxicated, rather than motor vehicle manslaughter. Under Maryland law, a lesser degree of negligence is attached to automobile homicide while intoxicated, on the theory that the driver's responsibilty for the accident is diminished because of intoxication. Motor vehicle manslaughter, on the other hand, involves "gross negligence."
"I think it's not fair," said Jeanette Gwynn, a neighbor of the Lawsons in Bowie, who sat through the trial wearing a Mothers Against Drunk Driving button. "It's certainly not justice. She White took two children's lives . . . . Nothing they the jury could give her would bring the girls back, but it was gross negligence."