Prince George's County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph C.Sauderwein, after several hours of drinking, was involved in two hit-and-run driving offenses on the night of last April 26, but was never charged in either incident
Sauerwein, 43, the chief county prosecutor under State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., caused nearly $1,200 worth of damage to a parked sports car in Camp Springs and a pickup truck during a wild driving spree. It ended shortly after his Lincoln Continental skidded off a Capital Beltway entrance ramp as he was being chased by the truck he had rammed.
Although county police identified Sauerwein's car as the vehicle involved in both offenses, they did not thoroughly investigate either incident and declined to charge the prosecutor. The police officers separately investigating the two hit-and-run accidents did not compare notes or coordinate their probes, although one of the officers knew that Sauerwein had been involved in two accidents.
After speeding away from the scene of both incidents, Sauerwein encouraged the owners of the vehicles he struck not to call the police, persuaded the police not to file charges against him and denied to one police officer that he had been driving when the first accident occurred.
In both cases, Sauerwein paid the owners of the vehicles and persuaded them to sign statements that released him from liability. In one case he was aided by an employe of the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles, who interceded on the prosecutor's behalf in his dealings with the owner of the pickup truck.
State's Attorney Marshall, who had taken no disciplinary action against Sauerwein, denied knowledge of the incidents last week, then prohibited all employes in his office from speaking to two reporters investigating the accidents. "I don't know anything about any accident," Marshall said in a telephone interview Thursday. "That's bulls--t. I'm not going to have your trashy newspaper in my offices investigating the personal lives of my employes."
Sauerwein, who lives with his mother in an old farmhouse outside the county seat of Upper Marlboro, was not available for comment yesterday. His mother said he had left the area for a few days.
Sauerwein has been a prosecutor under Marshall since 1967 and has been deputy state's attorney since 1972. He has been entrusted in recent years with many of the most difficult and highly publicized cases the office has handled.
Last summer, he obtained a first-degree murder conviction against Charles M. Wantland, the parolee who allegedly murdered a young boy in Clinton in June, 1978. Suerwein also prosecuted Eugene T. Meyer, who was charged with murder in a "you kill my wife. I'll kill your wife scheme" with Lon A. Lewis.
He is scheduled to prosecute Meyer again later this week on charges of soliciting the murder of four other persons, including Meyer's wife and two policemen.
According to witnesses, participants, documents, and state's attorney's office sources, here is what transpired during the day of the accident and in the days following.
Marshall Sauerwein, Ronald H. Cooper, Marshall's press aide, and eight other members of the administrative staff gathered at The Chinese Village restaurant at 5834 Allentown Way in Camp Springs shortly after noon for a luncheon honoring national secretaries' week.
The group ordered nearly $60 worth of drinks, including Amaretto and an $11 bottle of champagne. Sauerwein also ordered an undetermined number of beers from the bar.
Marshall and most of the group left early in the afternoon to return to work, but Cooper and Sauerwein lingered until nearly 6:00 p.m., talking, drinking, and munching egg rolls.
Early in the evening, Sauerwein and Cooper left the restaurant and walked across the street to the Hangar Club, a nightclub featuring both male and female go-go dancers.
Sauerwein and Cooper had several drinks there, then, just after 7 p.m., they walked through the rainy night to Sauerwein's sleek black 1976 Lincoln Continental, which was in a parking lot at Allentown Way.
With Sauerwein at the Wheel and Cooper beside him, the car pulled out of the parking lot on to Allentown Way, headeo east, and almost immediately rammed into the rear of a white 2969 Camaro in show condition which was legally parked along the curb.
"The black Lincoln crashed into the back of the Camaro. Then the guy just backed up, pulled out on the street, and hauled ass," recalled witness Henry Adams, who was sitting in a nearby doughnut shop.
Then, according to Adams, Sauerwein ran the stop sign at the corner of Allentown Way and Old Branch Avenue, made a left turn, and headed for the Beltway about three miles north.
Cooper, meanwhile, was dazed, having struck his head against the windshield in front of him when Sauerwein struck the parked car. In the days following the accident, Cooper had X-rays taken because of persistent headaches.
Meanwhile, the Camaro, owned by James Sturgess of Upper Marlboro, was smashed like an accordion, with its trunk pushed up even with its rear window.
"I had a full tank of gas," said Carleen Sturgess, the owner's daughter, who had driven the car to work at her job nearby. "Gas was spilling out all over the street, and they had to call a firetruck. The firemen told me that it was only because of the rain that the car didn't blow up."
When he reached the Beltway, Sauerwein headed north. He had driven a mile or so when he attempted to pass a 1971 Ford truck driven by Thomas W. Hudson, of Fair Haven, Md.
Hudson said he was in the far right lane, and Sauerwein was one lane to the left of the truck as he attempted to pass it. Sauerwein's Lincoln swerved as it drew alongside the truck, then veered into it, tearing the truck's bumper nearly off. This happened at about 7:30 p.m., Hudson later told police.
"As soon as it happened," Hudson recalled recently, "I figured that the guy would pull over and we would get everything straight. But he just sped up, and so I started chasing him. I don't know how fast we were going, but it was definitely over the speed limit."
Sauerwein passed several Beltway exits with Hudson in pursuit. The two vehicles weaved in and out of traffic. Finally, Sauerwein cut across three Beltway lanes and exited down the ramp leading to the westbound lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Hudson stayed behind the Lincoln. "When I got off, he pulled up and went back on to the next entrance ramp onto the Beltway, headed south towards the Wilson bridge," Hudson said. "He got to the top of the ramp and hit the curb and then went over the curb and his car spun out on a grassy area."
Sauerwein's car was smoking from the front hood and its wheels were spinning as he jerked the wheel and gunned the engine in an effort to free the car from the ruts it had made in the grass.
"He was stuck and I pulled behind him and yelled out, 'I got your license number!" Hudson said.
Finally, Sauerwein freed his car and sped back on the Beltway, then took the next exit onto Pennsylvania Avenue's eastbound lanes, where he drove a block before pulling into Cornwell's Texaco Service Station near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Westphalia Road.
Hudson followed Sauerwein to the gas station, pounced out of his car, and went into a phone booth to call the police.
"He came over to me and looked at my car and said, "this is not much, we can get this fixed," Hudson recalled. "But I decided to call the police anyway.
"He was reeling when he got out of his car," Hudson said of Sauerwein. "To me, he was drunk. I could smell it on hi breath."
"Sauerwein was drunk," said acquaintance who also saw Sauerwein that night. "Whether or not he was smashed was hard to say because Joe holds his liquor pretty well."
"He wasn't nasty," Hudson said, "other than he got mad when I said I was calling the police."
Sauerwein then got in his car and drove off with Cooper without telling Hudson his name or giving any other information.
At 10:05 p.m., officer Robert Quinn, a 12-year veteran of the county police force, arrived at the Texaco station. He took down the Lincoln's license plate number, which Hudson had taken, and called it in.
The dispatcher reported back that the auto belonged to Sauerwein and that a car of the same description had been reported as involved in another hit and run only minutes earlier on Allentown Way. The dispatcher gave Quinn the name of the officer investigating the first incident.
"I drove over to Sauerwein's house, but he wasn't there," Quinn said in a recent interview.
Quinn said he did nothing more that night, and from that time on, Sauerwein's two accidents were apparently investigated separately by two police officers who never once communicated with each other.
Quinn said he contacted Sauerwein for the first time several days after the accidents when he called the state's attorney's office.
"I told [Sauerwein], well, hit and run, it looks like I'm going to have to charge you with it." Quinn said. "He said: 'You know how that's probably going to make me look pretty bad!"
Quinn said Sauerwein told him that Hudson did not want a charge to be filed, that a settlement was in progress, and that "he was taking care of it."
"I told him that I was stuck in the middle," Quinn said. "I was stuck between a rock and a hard place."
Quinn said he called Hudson, who confirmed that Sauerwein was paying for the damage to his car.
Hudson, indeed, no longer felt strongly about charging Sauerwein. But, Hudson says now: "I was concerned about the second accident. I told the officer I would be willing to come to court if he thought I should." t
After consulting with a shift supervisor, Quinn decided not to charge Sauerwein. "In a situation like this," Quinn said, "you look at the whole situation. If the parties want, you try to go along if you can."
Quinn said he talked to Sauerwein three times, and that Sauerwein admitted to his role in the hit-and-run. He said that he cannot recall if he questioned the prosecutor about his drinking.
Quinn said he never contacted the officer investigating the second accident, and never interviewed Cooper, although Sauerwein identified Cooper as his passenger.
The settlement between Sauerwein and Hudson, the truck owner, was negotiated by Charles Ralls, an employe of the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Glen Burnie. Hudson contacted him in an effort to learn the name of Sauerwein's insurance agent.
"He said, 'Joe Sauerwein, you mean Joe Sauerwein, the prosecutor?'" Hudson recalled. "Then he said he would get in touch with Sauerwein for me."
Eventually Hudson and Sauerwein reached an agreement under which Sauerwein paid Hudson $500 -- more than twice the cost of replacing the truck bumper. In return, Hudson signed a release form pledging not to hold Sauerwein liable for the accident. The bargain was executed by Ralls, Hudson said, who met him to deliver the check and watch him sign the release form.
"I was not acting in an official capacity," Ralls said yesterday. "I don't want to make any statement that would embarrass Mr. Sauerwein or the Department of Motor Vehicles." Ralls refused to comment further.
Sauerwein also settled with the owners of the parked car, paying them $1,032974, the amount it cost to fix the Camaro. In this case, too, Carleen and her mother, Portia, signed a statement releasing Sauerwein from liability.
The intermediary between the Sturgess family and Sauerwein was state Del. Joseph Vallario (D-Prince George's), who represented Sauerwein as an attorney.
The Sturgess family learned that Sauerwin owned the Lincoln that struck their car only after making a search of local body shops and finding the smashed Lincoln in the lot of Tommy's Auto Body in Clinton.
This case was handled by county officer William Brooks, who also decided not to file a charge.
Brooks said in an interview that Sauerwein acknowledged that he was the owner of the car, but denied being the driver who plowed into the Camaro.
For that reason, Brooks, said, he did not have enough evidence to charge Sauerwein with a hit and run. A seven-year veteran of the police force, Brooks said he did not know Sauerwein or know what his job was.