Off-duty Baltimore County Police officer guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter in deaths
An off-duty Baltimore County Police officer who fatally struck two people with his motorcycle in 2021 is guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter, a Baltimore County judge ruled Wednesday.
After a three-day trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Judge Michael Barranco found William Collazo Brown guilty of two counts of criminally negligent manslaughter, a misdemeanor charge that carries up to three years in prison, along with a dozen other counts, including charges of driving under the influence, homicide with a motor vehicle, and negligently operating a vehicle under the influence.
Barranco ruled Brown was not guilty of negligent vehicular manslaughter, meaning he did not act with gross negligence when he struck two pedestrians with his motorcycle on North Point Boulevard in Dundalk on his way back from drinking at an Essex motorcycle club. His sentencing is set for July.
“The defendant engaged in a deadly combination of alcohol use, operation of a motor vehicle and speed,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Felise Kelly in the state’s opening statement Monday. Kelly said Brown was under the influence of alcohol and speeding when he struck 21-year-old Berlynn Matthews and 34-year-old Joshua Day just after 2 a.m. May 2, 2021.
Brown’s attorney, Leonard Shapiro, argued that the legal issues involved in the crash were not as straightforward as they appeared, in part because the road was “pitch dark” and Matthews and Day were in a place where no driver would expect pedestrians.
“This was a perfect storm of terribly tragic events,” Shapiro said.
The Baltimore County Police Department announced that Brown had been “separated from employment” shortly after his DUI arrest. He was with the department for nearly two years.
Brown did not take the stand. As he listened to witness testimony, he rapidly tapped his right foot on the floor.
The traffic collision that ended two lives began when a man driving a Subaru home from work hit Day as the 34-year-old was trying to cross four lanes of traffic on North Point Boulevard south of Norris Lane. The driver pulled over on the right shoulder and checked on Day, who he said was still breathing, and called 911.
Matthews, a 21-year-old driving home from a bar with two friends, swerved after seeing Day lying in the left lane, then pulled over to the right shoulder ahead of the Subaru to help.
“Someone’s been hit, call 911,” she told one of her passengers, before running to check on Day. The two cars sat on the shoulder with their hazards flashing, according to video footage shown in court.
Matthews was standing in the road not far from Day when Brown approached on his motorcycle, striking both and then crashing. Both died at the scene, while Brown suffered minor injuries and refused medical treatment.
On body camera footage shown in court, Brown told officers that he had seen six or seven people standing in the road before the crash and tried to brake.
Shapiro argued that Matthews put herself in danger by standing in the dark road and questioned the quality of the crash analysis done by the prosecution’s expert, Baltimore County Officer Gregory Roberts. The defense’s crash reconstructionist, Charles Gregory Russell, found errors in the initial crash report, leading Roberts to take new measurements and amend his report.
In his verdict, Barranco noted there was considerable variability in the speed calculations and concluded that Brown was traveling at above 70 mph when he began braking, but not at 88 mph, as the prosecution argued.
The driver of the Subaru and the two passengers in Matthews’ car testified, along with Baltimore County Police officers who responded to the scene and interviewed Brown. Relatives of Matthews and Day attended all three days of the trial, at turns weeping or stoically observing 911 call audio and graphic photos of the two victims’ bodies.
Officer Jefferson Schaub, a member of the Baltimore County Police DUI Task Force, administered a field sobriety test and arrested Brown. Schaub and a former task force member, Officer Jordan Olszewski, testified that Brown failed to stand upright on one leg, that he was slightly slurring his words and his eyes were “glassy and bloodshot.”
A breath test at a police precinct hours after the crash returned a blood-alcohol level of 0.11%, over Maryland’s legal limit.
Shapiro conceded in his closing statement that his client was guilty of failing to control his speed and of driving under the influence, but said he was not “grossly negligent.” He also said there was reasonable doubt that Brown killed Day, who had already been hit by the first driver.
Kelly said witnesses told the court Day was still breathing before Brown arrived, and the first driver told a 911 dispatcher the same. “Breath in this case is evidence of life, that was snuffed out when the defendant hit him with his motorcycle,” she said.
Barranco agreed that Brown dealt Day “the final blow,” but ruled Brown’s impaired driving did not meet the standard of gross negligence in either death.
The state returned Matthews’ driver’s license to her parents after the verdict. Her father, Dave Matthews, looked down at her ID photo in the court lobby Wednesday afternoon as he said his daughter was “a hero” and more than a mere statistic.
“All she was trying to do was help somebody in need that night,” he said. “We made that promise that we would fight for her if it took 10 years.”