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Driver, 20, pleads guilty in Olney crash that killed three

Moments after pleading guilty Thursday, Kevin Coffay took a seat, dropped his head, and listened to a prosector lay out how drunk he was and how horribly three of his friends died when he crashed a car in Olney at 3 a.m. one day last spring.

Front-seat passenger Spencer Datt, 18, was partially thrown from the Toyota. The base of his skull was broken, as were 17 ribs, his spine and pelvis. There were lacerations on all four chambers of his heart.

Back-seat passenger Haeley McGuire, 18, was partially thrown from the car. She suffered broken bones and a gaping head wound.

Seated next to McGuire was Johnny Hoover, 20. He suffered skull fractures, broken bones and lacerations to his heart, lung, spleen and liver.

In the audience were relatives and friends of the victims and of Coffay, 20, many of them part of the close-knit community in and around Magruder High School, which all four had attended.

The May 15 crash had stunned them all, and Thursday’s court hearing was another part of the legal process. Coffay, of Rockville, pleaded guilty to all four charges against him: three counts of vehicular manslaughter and one of failing to remain at the scene of the crash.

As detailed at the hearing, Coffay — perhaps saved by an airbag — escaped with minor cuts and scrapes, dashed into the woods and eluded police for nearly three hours. A fourth passenger also survived the crash.

At a hospital, his blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.16, twice the legal limit in Maryland. In Montgomery County Circuit Court, prosecutor Bryan Roslund walked through the details of the case.

The night of May 14, a Saturday, Coffay went to a party in Olney — one hosted by a young man whose parents were in Mexico. Datt, McGuire and Hoover arrived as well. All four drank alcohol at the party, Roslund said.

About 12:30 a.m. May 15, they drove to a second party, this one hosted by a young man whose father was not home and didn’t know about the party. Coffay kept drinking, and people later said they saw him “wobbling back and forth,” Roslund said. Coffay stumbled into a wall and knocked down a picture, breaking the frame.

Shortly before 3 a.m., the host’s father returned and asked everyone to leave, Roslund said. One partygoer, worried that Coffay was drunk, told him not to drive. Coffay got in the car and sped away, Roslund said.

It had been drizzling, and the road was wet. Charlie Nardella, the only surviving passenger, later told police he had asked Coffay to slow down, court papers said.

As Coffay entered a curve just before Volunteer Drive, the Corolla went off the asphalt. Nardella told police that he remembered the car hitting things, then coming back to the road.

McGuire and Datt were unconscious, and Hoover made sounds, as if he were snoring, Nardella later told police.

Coffay, Nardella said, ran off without a word to any of them.

Court papers say that when an officer later told Coffay that three of his friends had died in the crash, he said: “What? They were fine when I left.”

Kelly Hartman, who attended the hearing, lives near Coffay and said she has talked to him about the crash. “He can hardly live with himself,” she said.

Although Coffay’s driving drunk was inexcusable, she said, it was hardly unique. “So many people, me included, have been exactly in that position, and just simply by dumb luck we came home alive,” Hartman said.

Jimmy Hoover, Johnny Hoover’s younger brother, said the plea brought limited comfort. ”There’s no amount of court proceedings in the world that can bring him back,” Jimmy Hoover said.

Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County. He arrived at the paper in 2005, after reporting stops at the Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is the author of The Yoga Store Murder.


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