ELKTON — Seconds before the two-vehicle crash that killed Mary Eva Shackelford’s three young grandchildren and their uncle near North East in May 2019, Shackelford swerved into the opposing lane to avoid striking a spare tire lying in the road, according to the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Her split-second, reflexive maneuver to miss that tire is one of several factors that resulted in Assistant State’s Attorney Robert E. Sentman electing not to file any criminal charges against Shackelford, a 54-year-old Elkton resident who, along with a fifth passenger in her car, suffered critical injuries in the crash, the SAO reported Wednesday.
“Upon a thorough review of the comprehensive investigation performed by the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, we have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges in this matter,” explained Sentman, who specializes in reviewing and prosecuting fatal and serious traffic accident cases.
CCSO investigators determined that drugs and, or, alcohol were not contributing factors in the quadruple-fatal crash, another one of the reasons why Sentman concluded that Shackelford’s actions did not rise to the level of criminality.
“Factors contributing to the decision included the absence of any evidence of impairment by drugs or alcohol, absence of driver distraction, and the fact that there was an object in the roadway. The investigation concluded that Shackelford reacted and swerved from her lane into the opposite lane to avoid the object in the roadway, a spare tire not belonging to either vehicle,” Sentman outlined.
Charges such as vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter while impaired and vehicular homicide while impaired are applicable only when all specified elements of the charge exist, such as gross negligence or being impaired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The quadruple-fatal accident occurred at approximately 9:30 p.m. on May 23, 2019 in the 600 block of Mechanics Valley Road, near Indian Road, north of the West Pulaski Highway (Route 40) intersection.
Police reported that Shackelford was driving a 2005 Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle in the southbound lane of Mechanics Valley Road when she lost control of the vehicle, which spun sideways and struck a northbound 1999 Chevrolet pickup truck.
(Shortly after the traffic accident, with the investigation ongoing, CCSO officials told the Cecil Whig that they had not determined why Shackelford lost control of the SUV. On Wednesday, SAO officials updated that CCSO investigators later concluded that Shackelford had swerved to miss the tire in the road.)
Killed in the crash were three of Shackelford’s grandchildren — 4-year-old Nolan Henry Jackson, who was pronounced dead at the crash scene; 9-year-old Talen Nathaniel Jackson, who died from his injuries at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore; and 10-year-old Ciersten Nikcole Jackson, who died from her injuries at Union Hospital in Elkton, police said.
Also pronounced dead at the scene was Shackelford’s front-seat passenger, 34-year-old Anthony William “Tony” Shackelford, who was the uncle of the children in the car, police added.
Mary Shackelford and a fourth grandchild who was a passenger in her vehicle – David Wayne Jackson, then 13, the eldest sibling of the children killed – were critically injured in the crash, according to police. A Maryland State Police helicopter crew flew Jackson to Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, while another MSP helicopter crew flew Shackelford to University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore, police reported.
The 24-year-old Elkton man who was driving the pickup truck suffered non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
Due to concern over the possible emotional impact on first responders who worked at that traffic accident scene, a Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) team was activated for CCSO deputies, EMS, and fire/rescue personnel, and counselors were available to speak with them.
(When two CCSO patrol deputies arrived at the crash scene within two minutes after it had occurred, two of the children were unresponsive and they performed CPR on those youngsters until paramedics arrived, police reported.)
The children killed in the crash were Cecil County Public Schools students, and grief counseling was made available to pupils at the school they had attended.