On a September afternoon last year, James M. Mills served Bonnie Grimes three drinks at his Paddock Lounge in White Plains, Md., then another bartender served her at least three more, according to a Charles County prosecutor.
After about two hours at the bar, Grimes drove away, and minutes later two persons were fatally injured when she lost control at 73 miles an hour and her car crashed into theirs. The victims: Mills' son, Stephen A. Mills Sr., 34, of White Plains, and grandson, Stephen A. Mills Jr., 13, who were driving along Rte. 227 about a half mile west of the bar.
Late Wednesday, Grimes, 42, of Pomfret, Md., who was badly injured in the crash, pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated. In exchange for her guilty plea in Charles County Circuit Court, two counts of manslaughter by auto, two counts of homicide while intoxicated and several reckless and negligent driving charges were dropped.
She is expected to be placed on probation for five years but not incarcerated, the prosecutor said.
Under Maryland law it is illegal for a bartender to serve alcohol to minors, known alcoholics or anyone who is visibly intoxicated. Grimes had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent at the time of the accident, a county prosecutor said. In Maryland, a person with a blood alcohol level of 0.13 percent or higher is legally drunk.
A statute making liquor retailers liable for injuries resulting from intoxicated patrons failed to pass the recent Maryland General Assembly.
James M. Mills, whose daughter-in-law has filed a $75 million wrongful death suit against Grimes, could not be reached for comment today.
At the time of the accident, Grimes was on probation stemming from charges six months earlier of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and had a restricted license, prosecutors said. She was allowed to use it only for work and classes.
The civil action filed by Joyce T. Mills, whose husband died the evening of the Sept. 28 crash and whose son died 13 days later, names Grimes; her husband, John M. Grimes, and the Beacon Printing Co. Inc., which they own.
The suit, also filed on behalf of Mills' daughter Terri, 15, who was riding with her father but not seriously injured, alleges that Grimes allowed his wife to continue driving the company Datsun 300 ZX despite her "severe alcohol problem and her dependence on antidepressant drugs."
At the time of her first arrest, Bonnie Grimes was taking the prescription drug Valium; she is currently enrolled in an alcohol rehabilitation program and receiving psychiatric treatment, said her attorney, Warren L. Miller. Miller declined to comment on the pending civil litigation.
Grimes, who came to the courtroom on crutches, told Judge George W. Bowling that she could remember nothing about the accident. She suffered brain damage and fractured both legs when she was thrown from her car as it broke in half on impact, police and attorneys said.
When police got to the accident site, they found vodka mixed with a cola drink in Grimes' car, State's Attorney Stephen J. Braun told the court. Braun also said he was prepared to present evidence that Grimes was served at least six drinks at the Paddock Lounge before the accident.
According to the police traffic report, Grimes was driving about 73 miles an hour when her car skidded out of control, crossed the center line and slammed into the Mills car head-on, Braun said.
Braun said he worked out the plea bargain after it became apparent from medical records that "it was very unlikely that Mrs. Grimes would ever be incarcerated . . . .
"This DWI conviction accomplishes everything that the more serious charges would have, except the longer jail term," he said. "With her plea, she's not contesting any of the facts of the case. She simply doesn't remember them."
The guilty plea will stand unless a presentencing investigation uncovers new evidence to discredit the medical diagnosis, Judge Bowling said. Grimes is expected to be placed on five years supervised probation, Braun said. She also will be prohibited from driving a car and from possessing or drinking alcohol during that time, he said.
Charles County and its neighbor, St. Mary's, are dotted with discount liquor stores and "drive-thru" establishments where liquor can be purchased without leaving the car. The two counties perennially have the highest number of drunken driving-related fatalities in Maryland, according to state police.
A courtroom observer for Charles County's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said today that she was "displeased, but not surprised, with the plea bargaining arrangement" in the Grimes case.
"We're talking about the taking of two lives," MADD spokeswoman Sheila Freeman said, "but considering Mrs. Grimes' condition, it is perhaps all we can expect."