- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A judge convicted a Callaway man on Thursday of two charges of vehicular manslaughter and traffic offenses from a crash last year that killed two women.
Robert William Rice Jr. remained free on $125,000 bond after the ruling in a St. Mary’s courtroom by visiting Prince George’s Circuit Judge Maureen M. Lamasney, who ordered that Rice return to court in November after the completion of a presentence investigation. The maximum sentence for a conviction for the manslaughter offense is 10 years in prison.
Earlier on Thursday, Rice testified that he blacked out at his home from a diabetic disorder before the truck he was driving that evening in August 2011 was involved in a series of crashes on Route 5 in Callaway.
The judge said that witnesses to the collisions and Rice’s demeanor after the fatal crash indicated that he knew what he was doing, and that a doctor’s testimony for the defense about diabetes did not address Rice’s personal ability to function at a low blood-sugar level.
“There’s been no evaluation of Mr. Rice at all,” the judge said before announcing her verdict, and she noted testimony that Rice stopped at a traffic light before the first crash, and begged for help getting out of the truck after the last one.
“He was completely aware of what he was doing,” Lamasney said. “He was completely aware of the risk that he was posing to other individuals on the road.”
The judge noted testimony that Rice looked in his rear-view mirrors and sped away after the first crash, heading north on the highway to where two other wrecks occurred, including the one that killed 22-year-old Chernica Arielle “Ce-Ce” Boyland of Lexington Park and her passenger, 22-year-old Lisa Annette Proctor Brooks of Leonardtown, a La Plata native.
“He was aware of what he had done,” the judge said, “and he was trying to avoid the consequences of what he had done.”
The judge’s ruling followed final arguments by lawyers in the case, including St. Mary’s Assistant State’s Attorney Laura Caspar’s account of testimony that Rice made an obscene gesture at the driver he injured in the first crash. Rice even knew that the driver had a passenger with her, the prosecutor said, because when that driver later approached him in the wrecked truck, he told her “I wish I had killed you both, too.”
“His speech was fine. He spoke without slurring,” Caspar said, and his earlier actions showed a “consciousness of guilt” that refuted any claim of a medical impairment.
James F. Farmer, Rice’s lawyer, countered that “No one in their right mind would drive the way he did.”
The judge disagreed.
“People drive like that every day, all over the state, in a reckless manner that totally disregards the safety of other people,” Lamasney said.
Earlier on Thursday, Rice, who chose to have his case heard by the judge instead of a jury, gave his account of the hours before the collisions. Rice said he took his morning insulin, ate a full breakfast, drank protein shakes before and after a workout at a gym and had some lunch while visiting his mother. He said he then returned home to shower and get ready to go to a softball game. He had been following a newly prescribed regimen for treating his diabetes for a day or so, he testified.
“I felt kind of funny,” he said. “I put my shoes on. I couldn’t tell you [what happened] after that.”
Police, the prosecutor and a grand jury’s indictment alleged that Rice’s driving that evening amounted to gross negligence as it caused the series of collisions. The judge heard testimony that after Rice initially crashed his pickup truck into a minivan near the highway’s intersection with Piney Point Road, he speeded north, hit the rear of another minivan and then crossed the highway’s centerline, colliding with an oncoming car and killing the two women.
Rice, now 35, testified Thursday that his next memory after putting on his shoes at home was riding in a police helicopter to a hospital, and that someone on the helicopter told him there had been a vehicle accident. “The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘Did somebody run into my living room?’” he recalled.
Rice said he was still in the hospital about 10 days later when his parents told him what had happened.
“I felt horrible,” he said. “I’m not the kind of person to harm anybody.”
Rice said he moved to Florida later in the year.
“I was getting threats, murder threats,” he said. “It was easier to leave the situation, and no more incidents would occur.”
He did return to St. Mary’s last winter, to be further questioned by police, before grand jurors indicted him.
Caspar questioned Rice on how regularly he checks his blood-sugar level, and he replied that he checks it four or five times a day.
Before he left the witness stand, Rice stood up and turned toward the families of the people hurt and killed in the series of collisions to apologize. “I would like to say I’m sorry,” Rice said.
In earlier testimony, Michael Thomas of Lexington Park testified Wednesday that he saw Rice sitting in the truck at the softball field in Great Mills shortly before the series of collisions occurred.
“He didn’t seem like Bobby to me,” Thomas testified. “I was talking about softball. But he seemed like he was someplace else.”
Thomas testified that he did not know that his friend had diabetes. “I wish I had,” he said.
In addition, Donald DeGraves, a paramedic who responded to the fatal crash, testified Wednesday that Rice was unaware of his surroundings and unaware of what had happened, consistent with a diabetic disorder from his low blood sugar, which was indicated by a test at the scene.
“They can make a decision, but you can’t rely on a good decision,” DeGraves said. “You’re probably not coherent to what decision you’re making.”
The judge said, “I don’t know how anyone can make a decision that they’re not aware of. You choose a course of conduct.”