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Epileptic driver pleads guilty in fatal car crash

February 24, 2004|by DAVID DISHNEAU

A man with epilepsy pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter Monday for crashing his car at 63 mph into the rear of a stopped vehicle carrying a Frederick city official and his three young sons.

Anthony F. Grimes, 35, of Frederick, is to be sentenced to six years in prison March 2 under a plea bargain lawyers negotiated Monday morning as his trial was set to begin.

Grimes also agreed to five years of probation, with no driving allowed, and 250 hours of community service. The maximum penalties for his offenses total 40 years and $10,000 in fines.

In return for his guilty plea, Frederick County prosecutors dropped two counts of reckless driving and one of failure to control speed.

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Frederick County Circuit Judge John H. Tisdale said there could be no proper resolution to the tragic deaths of Rodney B. Pulliam, 38, the city's chief operations officer, and his sons Rodney II, 10; Jordan, 8; and Matthew, 6.

"I'm satisfied that to the extent humans can achieve a resolution, this is an appropriate resolution," Tisdale said.

Pulliam also was pastor of Little Forest Baptist Church in Stafford, Va.

Prosecutors said Grimes told police after the March 23, 2002, crash that he had felt symptoms of an imminent seizure less than 30 minutes before the collision. He also told investigators he couldn't recall his 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass hitting Pulliam's small Hyundai, according to a charging document.

Grimes' lawyer said Monday that her client doesn't remember making those statements. However, she did not dispute prosecution claims that Grimes was a "noncompliant" epilepsy patient who refused to take medication for his seizures and ignored his doctor's recommendation against driving, by obtaining a replacement license in February 2002 after a four-month voluntary suspension.

"This was something that could have been avoided by Mr. Grimes," Deputy State's Attorney J. Charles Smith, the lead prosecutor, said.

Pulliam's widow, Tammie A. Pulliam, who lost her husband and all her children in the crash, declined interview requests Monday. Prosecutors said she wants Grimes' community service to be served in an emergency room.

"She just felt that's a good place for him to see what happens to people when they're negligent with automobiles," Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle said.

Tammie A. Pulliam has filed four wrongful death civil suits against Grimes, each seeking $10 million in damages.

Grimes' lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Susan Puhala, said Grimes, who worked as a stock clerk in Leesburg, Va., was shaken by the case.

"It's difficult, obviously. It's a tragedy all around," she said.

The lawyers negotiated the plea bargain after Tisdale last week barred the defense from presenting a key witness, a neuropsychologist whose testimony would have supported Grimes' claim that he was not criminally responsible for the deaths. Tisdale found that the defense had not disclosed the witness to the state in a timely fashion.

The case triggered tougher restrictions on Maryland drivers with epilepsy and other medical impairments. At the time of the accident, driving privileges suspended or revoked by the Motor Vehicle Administration could be reinstated 90 days later unless the person had suffered another seizure in the interim. The revised law has no fixed minimum term for people with epilepsy.

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