An accused drunk driver who collided with an oncoming group of motorcyclists on a rural Prince George's County road last fall, was convicted yesterday of charges stemming from the crash, in which three people were killed and three seriously injured.
Bobby Dean Coates, 53, a handyman from Accokeek in southern Prince George's, was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide while intoxicated, stemming from a crash that killed two members of the Iron Horsemen motorcycle club and one of their passengers.
Police said Coates was drunk Oct. 14 when his Ford Thunderbird swerved across the center line of unlighted Bealle Hill Road in Accokeek about 1:20 a.m., plowing into a column of six Harley-Davidsons headed the opposite way.
"It was like a bomb went off in the middle of the motorcycles -- bikes and bodies everywhere," police Cpl. Patrick Burley recalled yesterday as he awaited the jury's verdicts. He called it "the number one worst" crash site he has seen in 17 years as an accident investigator.
The Circuit Court jury acquitted Coates of three more serious counts of vehicular manslaughter, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
One juror, who did not want to be identified, said later that members of the panel did not believe Coates had displayed a "wanton or reckless disregard for human life," an essential element of vehicular manslaughter. Instead, the juror said, they found his conduct negligent and convicted him of three counts of vehicular homicide, each punishable by up to five years in prison.
He also was convicted of driving while intoxicated, which carries a possible one-year term, and two other traffic offenses.
The juror also said the panel members followed the wishes of prosecutor Diane Adkins, who urged them not to let their judgment be colored by the physical appearance of the surviving motorcyclists.
Some of the Iron Horsemen, with beards, tattoos and ponytails, watched the trial in ragged jeans, boots and leather vests covered with patches and insignias. Club member John Becker, who was hospitalized for 51 days after the crash with a severe leg injury, took the witness stand wearing a Mohawk haircut, and a sleeveless work shirt, untucked and unbuttoned, over a black sleeveless T-shirt from the Lost Spoke Saloon.
"It doesn't matter" that Coates was acquitted of vehicular manslaughter, said Becker, 33, of Waldorf, "as long as he was convicted of something."
Becker's wife, Susan, lost her left leg in the crash.
Coates, testifying in his own defense, denied that he was drunk at the time of the crash, but investigators said tests showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.15 percent, above the legal limit of 0.10 percent for intoxication. His attorneys argued in the trial that the crash occurred when at least one motorcyclist swerved into Coates' travel lane on Bealle Hill Road.
Killed in the accident were Brien Minor, 30, of Wheaton, Helen Doan, 24, of Waldorf, and Donald Blaylock, 38, of St. Leonard, Md.
Judge Audrey E. Melbourne ordered Coates held at the Prince George's County Correctional Center pending sentencing next month.
"To me, this has been like an eight-day funeral," said Sharon Storke, 29, of Clinton, who suffered a broken pelvis, arm, back, collarbone, knuckle and other injuries in the crash. "Now the funeral's over. I can accept it now. . . . Now Brien and the rest can rest in peace."