A Prince George's County man convicted of driving drunk when he collided with a group of motorcyclists on a rural road last fall was sentenced yesterday to nine years in prison as a result of the crash, in which three people were killed and three seriously injured.

Bobby Dean Coates, 54, a handyman from Accokeek in southern Prince George's, told Circuit Court Judge Audrey E. Melbourne that "words can't express how I feel" about the crash, which killed two members of the Iron Horsemen motorcycle club and one of their passengers. One of the injured riders lost her left leg in the collision.

"No one here believes you intended to get in your car and end up killing three people," the judge told Coates. But Melbourne, a judge since 1978, called the matter "the most tragic {drunk driving} case I've seen since I've been on the bench," and said that Coates deserved a prison term.

As Coates's grown daughter Bobbie wept in the courtroom gallery, Melbourne imposed three consecutive five-year sentences -- the maximum for each count of vehicular homicide while intoxicated. The judge then suspended six years of the 15-year term and ordered five years of probation for Coates after his release.

Under Maryland prison guidelines, Coates would be eligible for a parole hearing in about two years.

Prince George's 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. and plowed into a column of six Harley-Davidson motorcyles headed the opposite way.

Killed were Brien Minor, 30, of Wheaton; Helen Doan, 24, of Waldorf; and Donald Blaylock, 38, of St. Leonard, Md.

Coates's blood-alcohol level measured 0.15 percent, above the legal limit of 0.10 percent for intoxication, police said. He was not speeding.

At Coates's trial last month, police Cpl. Patrick Burley, who investigated the crash, called the accident scene "the No. 1 worst" he had seen in 17 years as an accident reconstruction specialist.

Coates's attorney, George Burgess, asked Melbourne yesterday "to be as merciful as you can under the circumstances," and said his client has been classified as an alcoholic by substance-abuse specialists who have interviewed him in recent months. Because of his drinking, "Mr. Coates in his own way is a victim in this case too," Burgess said.

"I'm not suggesting that Mr. Coates is a pillar of the community, but he's not a total nut out there, either," the lawyer said, noting that Coates has sought treatment for his drinking problem.

Prosecutor Diane Adkins, who requested a 15-year sentence for Coates, argued that Coates has been reluctant to "shoulder blame" for the crash. In interviews with court workers preparing a pre-sentencing report, she said, Coates declined to describe himself as an alcoholic.

She said she was satisfied with the nine-year sentence.

But John Becker, 33, of Waldorf, who was hospitalized for 51 days after the crash with a severe leg injury, was less pleased. "I've said it before, the maximum wouldn't have been enough," Becker said.

His wife, Susan, who lost her left leg, said, "Nine years is better than I anticipated. But the whole 15 years would have been too little."