According to news reports, Anne Arundel prosecutors’ arguement that the death of a 73-year-old Howard Wright of Gambrills, MD, was likely the result of aggressive driving was apparenlty not sufficiently persuassive. As a result, the court recently sentenced an Annapolis resident to just six months in jail for killing the grandfather of six when his Toyota crashed head-on into the older man’s classic car two years ago. The two-car crash, which happened along a curved portion of Defense Highway near Nob Hill Dr., was caused when the the Toyota driver crossed the centerline. Prosecutors claimed that the defendant, Savvas Andres Pantelides, was going 80mph in a 45mph zone when the vehicles collided.
Pantelides’ defense attorney said his client was going no faster than 55 mph in the 45 mph zone when his vehicle struck Wright’s 1936 Ford 5-window coupe on June 25, 2009. According to news reports, the now-20-year-old Pantelides entered an Alford guilty plea to one count of auto manslaughter. For those unfamiliar with the term, an Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his innocence while at the same time admitting to the court that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to convict him or her (the Alford plea carries the same consequences as that of pleading guilty).
In an earlier report, during the entering of the defendant’s plea, court records showed that the judge in the case would likely sentence Pantelides to six months for his part in the fatal car wreck. While this garnered disbelief from the victim’s family members, others believed it to be a fair sentence. Maintaining that the crash was an accident, Pantelides’ father reportedly said that his son was sorry and that he never meant to hurt anyone.
According to news reports, Pantelides was allegedly traveling eastbound on Defense Highway just before 8pm when his 2003 Toyota Corolla collided head-on with Wright’s westbound Ford coupe. As a result of the wreck, Wright died at the scene and Pantelides was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center with serious injuries. The younger driver was reportedly in a coma for five days following the crash and spent another 55 days in the hospital; he has had to undergo nearly a dozen reconstructive surgeries on his legs and abdomen over the past year and a half.
A deputy state attorney close to the case said that Pantelides was not drunk or otherwise impaired at the time of the collision. As for the assertion that high-speed was to blame, a veteran county police officer handling the accident reconstruction determined that Pantelides’ vehicle was traveling at around 80mph as he approached the curve in the roadway. According to news reports, road signs in that area even suggest a reduced speed of 35mph.
To counter the state’s argument, the defense hired a private consultant — a retired Maryland State Police trooper — who estimated the speed of Pantelides’ car to be much lower. According to an assistant public defender working on the case, the defense’s expert witness calculated the Toyota’s speed at 48 to 55mph.
At the time of the wreck, Pantelides was reportedly on probation for one count each of trespassing and second-degree assault. The man apparently broke down at the plea hearing as the prosecution read a statement of facts into the record. The victim’s daughter said that she almost wished Pantelides had been drunk at the time of the crash because somehow it was worse to know he was sober.
Once Pantelides serves his six-month sentence, he will reportedly be on supervised probation for three additional years. Should he violate his probation, he could go bakc to jail for another four and a half years, according to court records.