WRC-TV news reporter Kelly Burke said yesterday that he will offer to produce a public service television program on the consequences of drunk driving as an alternative to a jail term and fines he faces on charges stemming from a car crash last summer that killed a Poolesville man.
Burke is scheduled to appear before Judge William Cave in Montgomery County Circuit Court today where he faces up to 60 days in jail and fines totaling $1,000.
"If I were a truck driver or a doctor, something else might be appropriate but I am a professional communicator and the judge and the community should use me up as a professional communicator against drunk driving -- that's what I hope to do," Burke, 39, said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"I'm not in any of this trying to seek sympathy, I'm just trying to channel this constructively to salvage life out of this tragedy . What else can I do?"
Citing state laws against cameras in the courtroom, Cave yesterday turned down a request from Durke Thompson, Burke's defense attorney, to allow the sentencing to be filmed by WRC-TV cameramen in preparation for the program. But Cave left open the possibility of accepting Burke's offer of an alternative sentence.
"Irrespective of what it could be used for, the canons just do not allow the use of cameras in a criminal case," Cave said yesterday. But, he added, "He Burke wants to use television time to convey a message. It strikes me as having tremendous potential for good educational use, if done right."
Burke pleaded guilty last November to driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to stay in the proper lane. In return for Burke's plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the more serious charge of homicide with a motor vehicle while intoxicated in the July 1 accident that killed 32-year-old Dennis Lee Crouch, a Montgomery County Transportation Department employe.
The victim's widow, Montgomery County police officer Sandra Leigh Crouch, who was eight months pregnant with the couple's first child at the time of the crash, declined through a spokesman yesterday to discuss Burke's proposal.
WRC-TV news director Jim Van Messel said the station was supportive of Burke's idea and would consider the project whether or not Cave accepts it. But Van Messel added that the plan was in its "infancy. Until we see what the project is, we can't sign off on it."
Although details on the program are sketchy, Burke said he hoped the program would reach a wide audience with "my message, which is basically informing young people or anyone else about what the consequences of drunk driving are . . . . I'm no weak fish. I'm just a sensitive person with a lot of feelings and trying to rebound in making an effort to prevent other people from going through what I've gone through and what the Crouches are going through."
Burke, whose home is just blocks away from the Crouches' in Poolesville, said he has not talked to Sandra Leigh Crouch since his van struck her husband's small pickup truck on a curving stretch of River Road in Darnestown.
Burke said of his proposed program, "There is debate whether individual presentations would have an effect on drinking and driving , but this is really all I know how to do, and I do it well, and I only hope it can have an effect," Burke said.