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Ex-P.G. Official Drank Before Fatal 1994 Crash

Leonard Stamm Lawyer in Prince Georges County drinking driving manslaughter trial | Driving while intoxicated, legally drunkBut Lawyer Says Defendant Exercised 'Normal' Caution

By Susan Saulny
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 18, 1996 ; Page B01

Brian T. Flood, former spokesman for the Prince George's county executive, was served six vodka tonics before he was involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident and later told police he had drunk no alcohol, the defense conceded yesterday as his drunken-driving trial opened.

"But he is not guilty" of manslaughter, his lawyer told a Circuit Court jury in Upper Marlboro, "and the accident in this case . . . could have happened to any of us."

Leonard R. Stamm, Flood's lawyer, said his client was in "fine" condition, even after being served the six complimentary drinks, as he left the Landover Holiday Inn on the night of Dec. 29, 1994. Stamm said Flood exercised a normal level of caution while driving, and at the time of the 10:45 p.m. crash on Route 202 in Cheverly, was unaware that he had struck and killed 51-year-old Evelyn Virginia Manning. She had been looking into the trunk of her car, which had stalled on the road.

Flood had only recently been named spokesman for Wayne K. Curry, then the newly elected county executive. At the moment Flood hit the woman's car, Stamm said, he made an error in judgment. "He was shocked, he panicked. It was dumb, stupid. . . . He was in a high-profile job and he made the wrong decision in a split second."

At that point, Stamm said, Flood thought he was involved only in causing property damage but was still afraid of being fired for wrecking a county car and drinking before driving. Flood drove home to Hyattsville and parked perfectly, Stamm said, but he was upset and in pain from hitting his head at 40 mph, so he began to drink, finishing more than a half-pint of bourbon.

Deep sighs and occasional tears came from members of Manning's family who attended the trial.

"This trial is like reliving all that pain all over again," said Manning's daughter, Shirley Jones. "He left my mother to die on the side of the road."

Assistant State's Attorney Roland N. Patterson Jr. said Flood's drinking and driving led directly to Manning's death. The prosecution will try to prove that Flood -- charged with 13 traffic offenses, including vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated -- was legally drunk at the time of the accident.

The state's first witness, Frederick Harrington, said that while waiting for a bus he saw Manning's car stall and then saw a car crash into hers. He said another witness followed the car and wrote down the tag number.

"At 5 in the morning, there's a knock at the door. It's the police," Stamm said. "Brian went on to tell a few things that weren't true."

Popping breath mints to hide the smell of alcohol, Flood told police he had not had any drinks in the past 24 hours.

The officers escorted Flood to a police station, where a breath test revealed a blood-alcohol level of 0.11. The legal limit in Maryland is 0.10. Curry later fired Flood, now 37.

The prosecution used the blood-alcohol evidence to say that Flood was still significantly affected by what he drank before driving home, even 10 hours after the accident. Stamm said, "The breath test doesn't relate to the state of sobriety at the time of the accident" because Flood drank after he got home.

The defense also said it will call an expert witness who will state that Flood, traveling at 40 mph, would have had only a second or two to respond if he had seen a car's hazard lights.

"His driving, except for the accident, was fine," Stamm said, stressing that Flood must have been looking down for a second and failed to see Manning's car in the travel lane ahead. "It's just a sad thing . . . the middle of the road was a very dangerous place to be."

Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington Post and may not include subsequent corrections.