It never ceases to amaze us as we follow the number of alcohol- or drug-related traffic accidents, even in the light of increased DWI and DUI enforcement and multiple anti-drunk driving campaigns. Still, every year thousands of drivers, passengers, adults and children are hurt or killed as the direct result of drunken driving all across the United States. As Maryland personal injury lawyers, we understand that it is difficult to fight human nature, but at the same time one can only hope that people — drivers in particular — recognize the folly of driving while impaired by alcohol or prescription medication.
Not long ago we read that a 20-year-old man was sentenced to just three years in jail following the fatal car crash that killed several of the driver’s friends, thanks in large part to alcohol. Many people in that community seemed to be torn between feeling a modicum of forgiveness and throwing the book at the man for such a deadly and tragic car accident.
Reading of any fatal traffic wreck, be it a car accident, trucking-related collision or a motorcycle crash, is difficult for anyone who feels that after more than a century of automobile transportation the drivers of the 21st century should have a greater sense of responsibility when getting behind the wheel of a two-ton motor vehicle. But regardless of the number of professional driver training programs, parental admonitions, not to mention social stigma of being arrested or convicted of driving while intoxicated, it appears that a certain percentage of the motoring public has much yet to learn about personal responsibility.
In the case mentioned previously, the driver was found to have been drunk at the time of the accident and, following the crash, fled on foot reportedly leaving his friends injured and dying at the scene. While the defendant could have received a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail following his guilty plea last year to three individual counts of vehicular manslaughter and one for fleeing the scene of a fatal car accident, a panel of Montgomery County judges reduced Kevin Coffay’s sentence to just three years.
Some people say that it was too lenient a sentence, considering that under Maryland state law the convicted man could be eligible for parole in just a few years, if not earlier. Those who did not agree with the panel’s decision point to the circumstances. Looking back on that day, Coffay was behind the wheel of his car at three in the morning when he apparently lost control of the vehicle, which swerved off the road and into a nearby tree. The fact that he was reportedly drunk that fateful morning was damning evidence.
The force of the collision resulted in the deaths of the three young people riding with the driver. Coffay reportedly survived the crash and then left the scene of the traffic accident by foot only to be found by police a number of hours later, several miles away. A 19-year-old female was the only innocent victim to survive the deadly wreck.
Coffay, his family and defense attorney argued that the original 20-year sentence was based more on revenge than justice, a claim that the deceased victims’ may have disputed. Regardless, the judicial panel apparently thought better of sending a now-21-year-old to jail for nearly two decades for his careless, negligent actions and apparent lack of responsibility to his friends. For those who wonder how an original criminal sentence could be that much reduced, Maryland law allows defendants to contest a sentence without actually appealing to a higher court.
Sentence cut for Md. man who killed 3 in car crash, ABC2News.com, April 21, 2012
Tragic DUI crash prompts community to take sides, WashingtonPost.com, April 19, 2012