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Driver sentenced in fatal crash may now face wrongful-death suits

A 20-year-old Maryland man who fled the scene after a car accident that killed three of his friends has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. With the criminal case complete, the young man could soon find himself the defendant in multiple wrongful death lawsuits, as well as a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of his lone surviving passenger.

The wreck happened as the man and his four friends were driving home after attending two late-night parties. Witnesses later told police they saw the driver stumbling and wobbling before leaving. After the car crashed, he fled the scene, later claiming that he didn't know there were people in the car when he ran off. Otherwise he would have stayed, he said at his sentencing hearing. But according to court documents, when told that three of his friends were dead, he claimed that "they were fine when I left."

When he was finally picked up by police three hours later, he had a blood-alcohol level of .16, twice the legal driving limit.

His attorney said the driver reacted as any "panicky young man" would. Prosecutors, however, wrote that his "cowardly choice" to leave his friends dead and dying in the car reflected a "callous attitude."

There were apparent warning signs prior to the crash, according to the prosecutors' sentencing memo, including an incident where the driver destroyed a mailbox with his car and a crash that left his family's car abandoned and pinned on top of a mailbox pillar. And the only passenger who survived the crash allegedly told the driver to slow down just before the accident.

The crash has left the driver at high risk of several lawsuits. Not only did he plead guilty to the charges against him, but the fathers of two of his deceased friends are lawyers. Perhaps the only reason he might not be sued for wrongful death and personal injury is the fact that he's headed to prison for 20 years and will have little to no income to pay for damages.

Source: The Washington Post, "Driver who fled fatal Olney crash gets 20-year sentence," Mary Pat Flaherty, Jan. 5, 2012

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