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A Decade Later, Paths of DWI Defendant and Judge Cross Again in Car Crash

It sounds like a storyline from a bad legal novel, but it really happened.

The Washington Post reported this weekend that in 1998, police pulled over a man named Rene E. Fernandez after seeing him spin out of control and stop in his station wagon. His blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.14, over the legal limit. Three months later, Fernandez was again questioned by police because he "smelled of alcohol, swayed while standing and did so poorly on a one-leg-stand test that police stopped it because they worried that he was going to fall and hurt himself." He was charged with drunken driving but declined to take a blood-alcohol test.

Judge Stephen P. Johnson granted Fernandez "probation before judgment" in the first case after he pleaded guilty to drinking and driving. Three months later, Fernandez went before Judge Edwin Collier in the second case, and he again pleaded guilty. Collier sentenced him to 60 days in jail but declined to send him to jail, suspending the term.

Fernandez then went 11 years without any further drunk driving charges, until Aug. 21, 2009, when his path and that of Judge Collier unfortunately met again. On that date, the Post reports, Fernandez's car started swerving and he sideswiped the Dodge Dakota to his right -- which was driven by now-retired Judge Collier and his wife Ellen. The impact of the crash lifted the front of both vehicles off the ground, and resulted in serious injuries to the Colliers. Ellen Collier, age 82, suffered a compound leg fracture, fractured ribs, a fractured hip and neck injuries, and has now endured five operations as a result. Judge Collier, now 86, suffered a broken leg and fractured ribs, and must now use a cane.

Fernandez was barely hurt, the Post reports, but tested at more than twice the legal limit for alcohol following the crash. He is set to appear in court tomorrow to face trial on eight charges related to the crash, including causing life-threatening injuries while intoxicated.

Collier didn't recall the 1998 case, but his lawyer stated that even after learning of it "[h]e doesn't harbor any ill will toward Mr. Fernandez." "It's just a total irony," the lawyer said.

Posted by Bruce Carton on April 13, 2010 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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