Television reporter Kelly Burke pleaded guilty yesterday to driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to stay in the proper lane in an early-morning car crash last summer that killed a Montgomery County government employe.

Burke's plea was delivered in a Montgomery County courtroom packed with spectators, including the victim's widow and the 3-month-old child with whom she was eight months pregnant at the time of the crash.

Burke faces up to 60 days in jail and total fines of $1,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan 17.

In return for Burke's plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a more serious charge of homicide with a motor vehicle while intoxicated in the accident that killed Dennis Lee Crouch of Poolesville. That charge carries with it up to three years in prison and fines of $1,000.

Sandra Crouch, cradling her daughter, Denise, the couple's only child, was joined by a dozen family members and friends in the courtroom. On the advice of her attorney, she declined to comment on the plea.

Durke Thompson, Burke's lawyer, said he expects Crouch, who is a Montgomery County police officer, to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages in the death of her husband, a 32-year-old transportation department employe.

The accident occurred at 6:17 a.m. July 1 on a curving stretch of River Road near Violet Locks Road in Darnestown, police said, when Burke's GMC van hit Crouch's Mitsubishi pickup truck. Crouch was driving to Fort Bragg, N.C., for Army Reserve training.

Burke, 38, had "unwound" and had breakfast with friends after completing contract negotiations for WRC-TV's unit of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and was driving to his Poolesville home when the accident occurred, according to his lawyer.

Crouch died at Suburban Hospital several hours after the crash. Burke was treated for fractures of both feet and multiple cuts and bruises on his body and face and was released from Suburban Hospital four days later.

After yesterday's proceeding, Assistant State's Attorney Barry Hamilton said the state agreed to Burke's plea to lesser charges because of "shaky" physical evidence and "the certainty of results. You know you'll get this conviction and no appeals." Hamilton said Sandra Crouch also agreed to the reduced charges.

"Despite all the increased attention," Hamilton said, "it's hard to convince juries in drunk driving cases, still."

Burke, who has not appeared on the air since the accident but remains employed by WRC-TV, told reporters yesterday that he had been drinking the night before the accident, but he focused his remarks instead on his remorse.

"Certainly, no one has any business operating a vehicle under the influence whether it's the highest level or the lowest level of blood alcohol," Burke said.

"I don't know why God spared me -- all I know is that there's no joy in living with this. I pass the accident scene every morning and I say a rosary," Burke told the reporters, many of whom had known him for years. "There's not an hour every day that I don't think about this."