ELKTON — A woman who caused a chain-reaction crash that killed two Cecil County men near Chesapeake City in October 2018 received a 30-month jail term on Monday, as part of a binding plea deal.
Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes imposed a maximum three-year sentence on the defendant, Kimberly Ann Morgan, 31, of Chester, Pa., for criminally negligent vehicular manslaughter and then suspended all but 15 months of that penalty.
Baynes then imposed an identical sentence on Morgan for a second criminally negligent vehicular manslaughter conviction and ran it consecutively to the first penalty, also in accordance with the binding plea agreement reached by Assistant State’s Attorney Robert E. Sentman and Morgan’s defense lawyer, William G. Christoforo Jr..
Morgan, who is four months pregnant, according to information released by Christoforo during Monday’s courtroom proceeding, will serve her 30-month term in the Cecil County Detention Center. The judge gave Morgan credit for 48 days that she had served in jail as a pretrial and pre-sentence inmate.
In addition, Baynes ordered Morgan to serve three years of supervised probation after completing her two-and-a-half year term.
(In a binding plea, the judge imposes the sentence and the period of probation negotiated by the prosecutor and the defense lawyer. After agreeing ahead of time to the terms of the binding plea agreement, the presiding judge cannot reduce or exceed the agreed-upon sentence and probation period.)
Shackled and clad in a pink inmate uniform with black “CCDC” letters on the back, Morgan tearfully addressed the judge moments before sentencing, although her allocution could not change the agreed-upon penalty that she would receive.
“I apologize to the victims,” Morgan cried, glancing back slightly and quickly toward a group of relatives and friends of the victims seated in the back of the courtroom, while standing at the defense table. “I’m sorry to you and everybody else. That’s it.”
During their lengthy investigation, Maryland State Police troopers determined that Morgan did not possess a driver’s license “issued by Maryland or any other state” at the time of the deadly crash, according to prosecutors, who also reported, “Evidence revealed that she was falling asleep while driving, prior to the crash. Morgan told investigators she knew she caused the crash by crossing the double yellow line.”
Morgan, however, did not have drugs or alcohol in her system at the time of the crash — a conclusion based on the negative results yielded by a standard MSP blood kit taken at University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore, to which a critically-injured Morgan had been flown by an MSP helicopter crew shortly after the fatal collision, the prosecution and the defense both reported.
Killed in that domino-effect collision on Augustine Herman Highway (Route 213) near Spears Hill Road were Richard Gestewitz, 53, of Charlestown, and his front-seat passenger, Charles Sutton, 70, of North East. Relatives told the Cecil Whig that Gestewitz and Sutton, a dear family friend, were avid outdoorsmen who were traveling south to make their last crabbing outing of the season, when they were killed in the chain-reaction crash.
MSP investigators determined that Morgan was driving a 2003 Mitsubishi Galant in the northbound lane on Route 213, near the Chesapeake City Bridge, at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2018, when her car crossed the double-yellow centerline and entered the southbound lane.
Morgan’s car then crashed into the left rear tire of Gestewitz’ southbound 2002 Mazda B3000 pickup truck, which was towing a John Boat on a 2006 Bear boat trailer. After that impact, Morgan’s Mitsubishi continued southward in the opposing lane and struck the boat trailer and boat, before crashing head-on into a 2009 Chevrolet Silverado operated by Kenneth Lewis Haines Jr., 60, of Elkton.
“As a result of the Mitsubishi striking the left rear wheel of the Mazda, the wheel detached from the truck, causing the Mazda to rotate counter-clockwise and overturn. The trailer/boat separated and traveled off the right side of the southbound lane. The Mazda overturned into the northbound lane, landing on its left side, and continued to rotate and slide . . .,” prosecutors outlined in a written statement released after Monday’s sentencing.
At that point, according to prosecutors, a northbound 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt driven by Watson Horace Tinch, 55, of Galena, crashed into the roof of the overturned Mazda.
Gestewitz and Sutton were trapped inside the Mazda, and Morgan and her passenger, Caitlyn Little, 21, of Colora, were trapped inside the Mitsubishi, prosecutors said. Sutton was able to self-extricate from the truck, but he then went into cardiac arrest and died, prosecutors added. Cecil County Department of Emergency Services paramedics pronounced Sutton and Gestewitz dead at the scene, prosecutors reported.
Having suffered what were classified as “life-threatening injuries,” Morgan was flown by MSP helicopter to the Shock Trauma Unit in Baltimore. Little suffered serious injuries, and an ambulance crew transported her to Christiana Hospital in Delaware. An ambulance crew transported Tinch to Union Hospital in Elkton, where he was treated for minor injuries. Haines, who also suffered minor injuries, refused medical treatment at the scene, but he later went to Union Hospital, according to prosecutors.
Binding plea agreement
In October 2019, after a year-long MSP investigation, a Cecil County grand jury handed up an 18-count indictment against Morgan, whom investigators then arrested on Nov. 20, 2019.
On Oct. 19, one year after she had been indicted, Morgan pleaded guilty to two counts of criminally negligent manslaughter as part of a binding plea agreement reached by Sentman and Christoforo. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining 16 charges against Morgan.
Baynes accepted Morgan’s guilty pleas and scheduled her sentencing.
But Morgan, who was free on a $10,000 bond, failed to appear for her Dec. 7 sentencing, and she did so without providing an explanation. All other parties involved in the criminal case were present that day, including surviving family members of the victims. Baynes issued a bench warrant for Morgan’s arrest and instructed that she be held without bond, once captured.
On Dec. 10, three days later, Elkton Police Department investigators arrested Morgan while conducting an unrelated raid at a residence in the unit block of Hollingsworth Manor, police said. The unrelated, court-approved search yielded two loaded handguns, one of which had been reported stolen in Wilmington, Del., and the arrest of a 22-year-old Elkton man, police added.
Morgan was at that Hollingsworth Manor residence when the raiding officers arrived there and, aware that she was wanted on a bench warrant, investigators took her into custody, according to court records.
During Monday’s sentencing, Sentman told the judge that Morgan gave EPD officers a “fake name and age” when she initially was detained by them.
The prosecutor told Baynes that he had viewed Morgan as a “person taking responsibility,” when she entered her guilty pleas during the Oct. 19 hearing, and that his opinion of Morgan changed after she failed to appear for her Dec. 7 sentencing.
Sentman described Morgan’s failure to appear for her sentencing as “an insult” to prosecutors, the court and the surviving family members of the victim.
Later in the proceeding, Christoforo explained that Morgan “got scared,” and that’s why she failed to appear for her Dec. 7 sentencing.
Sentman expressed regret for having offered Morgan the binding plea deal — which precluded him from changing his sentence recommendation on Monday. Sentman also told Baynes that, given the developments in Morgan’s criminal case during the past month, he would have asked the judge to impose the full six years in sentences on Morgan — if he were not bound by the binding plea agreement.
Toward the end of the hearing, Baynes told Morgan that she was “very fortunate” that her defense lawyer was able to negotiate the binding plea agreement because, otherwise, he would have imposed a jail term greater than 30 months.
Baynes also cautioned Morgan to “comply with each and every condition of probation,” once released from jail, because a violation could result in her serving an additional 30 months — the time that had been suspended from her penalty.
Addressing the judge briefly before sentencing, Christoforo reported that Morgan is remorseful and that she has been “beating herself up” over what happened.