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Man gets five years in deaths

Donald Lee Curfman, 64, was sentenced on two counts of negligent homicide while intoxicated in the deaths of two Sabillasville,

Donald Lee Curfman, 64, was sentenced on two counts of negligent homicide while intoxicated in the deaths of two Sabillasville,

January 14, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A Smithsburg man on Monday pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court to two counts of negligent homicide while intoxicated in the August 2002 deaths of two Sabillasville, Md., women.

Donald Lee Curfman, 64, of the 21500 block of Jefferson Boulevard, was sentenced to five years in prison, and five years of probation when he is released.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III said Curfman could be eligible for parole in 21/2 years.

Mary Jane Bittner, 84, and Grace Ann Best, 61, died in the Aug. 22, 2002, accident when their car was struck head-on by a Pontiac driven by Curfman.

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The two women, neighbors on Harbaugh Valley Road, were driving to an appointment with a doctor in Hagerstown, according to charging documents.

Diane Miller, of Sabillasville, a relative of Bittner, said after the hearing that the family was glad Curfman would not be free once he left prison, because of the probation period, although the sentence was little consolation for losing a loved one.

"As (Wright) said, how can you even give a sentencing to justify what's been done?" Miller said.

A grand jury in October handed up a 12-count indictment charging Curfman with violations ranging from crossing the double-yellow line to vehicular homicide.

Curfman pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide while intoxicated. Five years is the maximum sentence for a single count of that charge. Wright could have sentenced Curfman to 10 years in prison.

On Aug. 22, witnesses said they saw Curfman's Pontiac station wagon driving erratically in the Smithsburg area. One woman said she was almost hit by the station wagon, and a couple driving in the area said they saw the station wagon go through a red light, charging documents said.

A few minutes later, witnesses saw the station wagon cross the double yellow line on Md. 64 near Old Georgetown Road, the court papers said. Best, who was driving, tried to avoid a collision, but the station wagon swerved back into her lane and hit her vehicle.

Bittner was declared dead at the scene, and Best was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where she later died.

Curfman also was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. He sat in a wheelchair Monday during the hearing.

According to court documents, when doctors performed a blood test on Curfman 21/2 hours after the crash, his blood alcohol content was .13, which is .05 above the .08 legal limit in Maryland.

Curfman had been cited in 1983 for driving under the influence of alcohol and again in 1991 for driving while intoxicated, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Steve Kessell said Monday.

In court Monday, after Curfman entered his plea, Miller read a prepared statement on behalf of Bittner's family and asked Wright to impose the maximum sentence.

"It is my wish that you (Curfman) would be behind bars for the rest of your life," Miller read.

Curfman's daughter, Donna Black, told Wright her father was a loving man who had cared for her ailing mother and grandmother.

Curfman spoke briefly to the family before his sentence, apologizing for the two women's deaths.

"I can never bring back the grief I have caused you. ... The only thing I can say is that from the bottom of my heart, I apologize, and God bless you," he said.

After handing down the sentence, Wright told the family he did not give Curfman the full 10-year prison sentence because five years in prison with five years probation afterwards allowed him to keep better tabs on Curfman.

"All that I can do is do what I feel ... is the appropriate judgment" within the law, Wright said. "But retribution is something I cannot do."

Wright said although there was "nothing I can do to compensate the family for their losses, ... what I can do is place Mr. Curfman in a place of maximum security."

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