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Accident victim, parents speak to court

April 07, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - When she awoke from a coma at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center last June, Karen Worthington discovered she had missed her Clear Spring High School graduation by eight days.

On June 10, two days before Worthington was to graduate, the car in which the honor student was riding was struck by a pickup truck in front of the Shamrock Inn on U.S. 40 near Clear Spring.

On Tuesday, the man charged in the accident was in Washington County Circuit Court, where he heard Worthington and her parents describe the effect the accident had on their lives.

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Harry Edward Lerch, 33, whose address before his arrest was 13122 Goldizen Lane in Clear Spring, pleaded not guilty on a statement of facts to the charges of driving under the influence and driving while revoked in connection with the accident.

After the hearing, Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III said such a plea means the defendant is pleading not guilty, but defers to the judge to determine guilt or innocence based on the state's statement of facts. Basically, Boone said, "He's not putting on any defense."

Boone found Lerch guilty and sentenced him to three years in state prison. He ordered him to serve a two-year sentence on a driving under the influence charge and a consecutive one-year sentence on a charge of driving with a revoked license.

Lerch, who was in prison on a violation of probation charge, must serve his sentence in connection with the accident in addition to whatever sentence he currently is serving, Boone said.

Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Arthur Rozes said Lerch's blood alcohol content was measured at .20 after the accident. In Maryland, .08 is the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Rozes said Lerch had two prior convictions for alcohol-related driving offenses.

Boone said after the hearing that Lerch was a subsequent offender on both charges, which means the maximum sentence on each charge is two years in prison.

Worthington, her long brown hair pulled partly back with a white clip, said that on the day of the accident she was on her way to her Latin teacher's house to give her a graduation ticket, but she never made it that far.

"I remember seeing a vehicle coming toward me. I remember the collision. I remember the car spinning. I remember hearing the police officer tell my boyfriend to step away from the car because it might explode. I remember the jaws of life (tearing) into my car. I remember hearing that I had to be medevaced to Shock Trauma," she said.

Worthington said that last memory about Shock Trauma was the one that affected her most. Her best friend had been flown to the Baltimore medical facility after a car accident, and he didn't survive, she said.

As a result of the accident, Worthington said, 15 scars run down her right leg and another scar runs from her sternum to below her navel. She has no spleen, she may have to have her gall bladder removed, she can't play sports and she's been told she might never carry a child to full term.

Throughout the Worthington family's testimony, Lerch remained focused on the table in front of him.

Linda Worthington, Karen's mother, recounted waiting to know if her daughter would pull through.

"Even though Karen was unconscious, she would grimace and tears would stream down her face," she said.

John Worthington, Karen's father, said he spent 10 days agonizing in the hospital waiting room worrying about whether his daughter would survive. He said he wanted Lerch to be punished beyond the law if possible, saying he thought justice would never be served for his daughter.

Turning toward the Worthington family, Lerch, his voice breaking, said, "I truly am sorry. I wish I could change it. I feel for you all, I really do."

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