Woman Acquitted Of Manslaughter In Wreck

Woman Acquitted Of Manslaughter In Wreck

Prince George's The Journal - 8/27/1996 - Timothy W. Maier, Journal Staff Writer

An Upper Marlboro woman was acquitted last week of vehicular manslaughter in the deaths of a mother and daughter but still faces possible jail time following her conviction on lesser charges of homicide while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Carol Joan McClain, 51, faces up two years plus 60 days in jail and $2,500 in fines at her Oct. 18 sentencing for her role in the Sept. 26 death of Michelle Carpenter, 11, and the girl's 37-year-old mother, Cynthia Martin Carpenter.

The Upper Marlboro victims were killed instantly last year in the crash on Rosaryville Road near Route 301 in Upper Marlboro.

Mclain, who was wearing a seat belt, sustained multiple fractures, including a broken hip, in the collision.

A county jury found McClain guilty Friday of two counts of homicide while under the influence, driving left of the center of the road, negligent driving and speeding.

McClain was acquitted of the most serious offense, two counts of vehicular manslaughter, charges that carry sentences of 20 years in prison. She was also acquitted of reckless driving. Charges of driving while intoxicated were thrown out by Circuit Judge Michelle Hotten.

According to trial testimony, McClain had a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 one hour after the accident and 0.04 three hours after the crash. The state limit for intoxication is .10. A blood-alcohol content of at least 0.07 is necessary for driving under the influence, according to state law.

The family and neighbors of the victim kept to themselves throughout the trial. Some were driven to tears during graphic testimony when witnesses described finding the family's dog, which survived the crash, sitting on the crushed girl. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.

McClain, a federal government worker who has never had a traffic citation, said she avoided a turning car ahead of her when she turned the wheel to the left and crashed her Ford Probe head-on into the victim's car.

The hard-fought trial erupted into a clash between the attorneys when prosecutor Roland Patterson verbally attacked defense attorney James Papirmeister last week for filing a motion to exclude the state's accident reconstruction expert and chief witness, Cpl. Richard B. Ratcliffe, from testifying.

Papirmeister charged the prosecutor violated a rule on witnesses by telling the county police officer about previous testimony. The judge granted Papirmeister's motion when evidence indicated that Patterson directed Ratcliffe to return to the crash scene after the first day of trial to take measurements to bolster the state's case and impeach previous witness testimony.

A dumbfounded Ratcliffe said it was the first time in his 27-year career that he had been excluded from testifying.

Patterson was infuriated with the ruling because Ratcliffe could have told the jury that McClain caused the accident - not the road - a defense present by McClain, who insisted she had no choice but to swerve to the left to avoid a turning car because she ran out of road.

Patterson argued in court that Papirmeister, a former prosecutor, misinterpreted the rule on witnesses and presented an "unresearched motion" to damage his reputation. He added the exclusion of Ratcliffe greatly damaged the state's case.

Papirmeister responded, "My allegiance is to my client. It's beyond me. I don't take these things personally. When Mr. Patterson said I haven't researched this, I just found out about it seconds ago."