Smithsburg man gets 10 years in vehicle manslaughter case

November 17, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A Smithsburg man on Monday entered an Alford plea to a charge of manslaughter by vehicle in the May 25 death of 35-year-old Debra Reed Fields-Jordan, who was riding a motorcycle when the accident occurred.

Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III sentenced Harry William "Billy" Shrader Jr. to serve the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the vehicular manslaughter charge.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges the state has enough evidence for a conviction.

Shrader, 46, of 12435 Pleasant Valley Road in Smithsburg, also was sentenced Monday in an unrelated burglary case. He was found guilty by a jury in October of second-degree burglary and theft over $500.

The judge gave Shrader two 15-year sentences in the burglary case - one for each offense - and suspended all but seven years. Boone ordered the sentences to be served concurrently.


Those sentences are consecutive to the one for the manslaughter charge, meaning Shrader will serve in a 17-year sentence. He is eligible for parole.

Fields-Jordan was riding her motorcycle east on Md. 77, heading from her home in Boonsboro to a hamburger stand in Thurmont, Md., when a pickup truck heading south on Pleasant Valley road ran a stop sign at the intersection with Md. 77, police have said.

Fields-Jordan's motorcycle, which had the right of way, struck the pickup truck on the passenger side, and the truck struck a tree south of the intersection and the driver fled on foot, police said.

The truck was registered to Shrader, who was taken into custody a few days after the accident. He has been held at the Washington County Detention Center since May 29.

Had the case gone to trial, a man held at the jail would have testified that Shrader confessed he remembered hitting something while he was high, Washington County Assistant State's Attorney John Dunlap said Monday.

"He hit something and was so high he didn't remember," Dunlap said. "Well, that something was a human being."

At the time of the crash, Shrader had been using the hallucinogen PCP (phencyclidine) for about 10 years, defense attorney Lewis Metzner said.

Dunlap set framed pictures of Fields-Jordan and her family on the bench in front of Beachley while he spoke.

Fields-Jordan's husband, Stephen J. Jordan, and three of the couple's five children, her mother and her sister were in the courtroom for Shrader's hearing.

Before Shrader was sentenced, Jordan spoke of the impact his wife's death had on him and his family, and he made note of the defendant's Alford plea.

"For him not to even admit guilt shows his character," Jordan said. "Our children have to grow up now without a mother."

Dunlap listed several convictions on Shrader's criminal record, including two convictions for driving under the influence and others for resisting arrest, fleeing and eluding, possession of PCP, driving impaired and other crimes.

Shrader's record is "relatively unremarkable," Metzner said.

Shrader spoke before he was sentenced, saying he has battled a drug addiction since his parents died several years ago. Reading from a written statement, Shrader turned and apologized to Jordan.

"I'm very sorry for your loss. I couldn't imagine the pain you feel every day," Shrader said.

Metzner gave the judge photographs of Shrader and his family, so the court would understand that "Harry Shrader is not a demon; he is a human being," Metzner said.

Two people who were at the accident the night Fields-Jordan died were in the courtroom Monday. Alma Paula Piper, who was driving near the intersection where Fields-Jordan's motorcycle was hit, could be heard talking to the family, assuring them Fields-Jordan hadn't suffered.

Jordan in August filed a multi-million dollar civil suit against Shrader. He asked for $4 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, alleging that he suffered, "mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, companionship, comfort protection, marital care, attention, advice, counsel, training guidance, education and love of his wife."

As the representative of his wife's estate, Jordan alleges in the suit that Shrader inflicted "cruel and inhuman treatment and wanton wrongs, with malice, when he drove intoxicated and failed to stop at a stop sign, causing Debra M. Fields-Jordan to crash into the truck he was driving."

Jordan and the couple's children will travel to Florida for a Disney vacation, he said after Monday's hearing.

"I'm trying to do the best thing by the children," Jordan said. "She had already planned our family vacation this year, so we're going to Disney. The kids convinced me."

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