Dwyer sentenced to 30 days in jail in drunken boating incident

Saying that "those who made the laws have an obligation to obey them," a District Court judge in Annapolis sentenced state Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. on Tuesday to 30 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to operating a boat while under the influence.

Dwyer, 55, a Republican from Pasadena, immediately filed an appeal.

The sentence stems from a powerboat collision last summer on the Magothy River involving Dwyer's boat, the Legislator, and another vessel. Several people were injured in the crash, and toxicology tests showed that Dwyer had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for being under the influence.

Judge Robert C. Wilcox, a retired judge brought in to preside over the case, also fined Dwyer the maximum of $1,000, gave him an 11-month suspended sentence and a year of supervised probation. Neither the conviction nor the penalties will take effect because of the appeal, which will trigger a new trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Wilcox told Dwyer he was holding him to a higher standard because of his status as an elected official.

"You are not the same as the average Joe who comes in here," he said.

Dwyer declined to comment as he left the courthouse. But his attorney, David Fischer, who had sought probation before judgment because the offense was Dwyer's first, characterized the judge's ruling as unfair.

"He absolutely stated that he was going to treat Delegate Dwyer differently. I don't believe that's appropriate," Fischer said. "We believe that any other citizen would not go to jail."

Dwyer has acknowledged that he'd been drinking the day of the crash. On Tuesday, he apologized in court and said he is partway through a 26-week outpatient alcohol treatment program.

The jail sentence was the second in two months involving an elected official in Anne Arundel County. In March, Judge Dennis M. Sweeney sentenced then-Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold to 30 days in jail and another 30 on house arrest as part of a sentence for convictions of misconduct in office.

Claude DeVastey-Jones, chief District Court prosecutor for Howard County who was brought in to prosecute the Dwyer case, had asked for a weekend in jail as part of the sentence, but deferred to the judge whether a weekend Dwyer spent in an inpatient alcohol treatment facility could take its place. She declined comment after the ruling.

Dwyer was at the helm of the Legislator Aug. 22 when it collided with a boat piloted by Mark "Randy" Harbin, 52, of Pasadena. Several people, including children and Dwyer, were injured. Harbin was also charged in the incident, and on Tuesday he pleaded guilty to failing to register his Bayliner, and paid an $85 fine. Two other charges were dropped in his plea agreement. None of the charges against Harbin involved alcohol.

Fischer has said Dwyer was not at fault in the collision.

Harbin's boat carried four of his grandchildren and a boy from his neighborhood. Harbin was taking the children tubing.

On Tuesday, the mother of two of the children hurt praised Wilcox's sentence. Anastasia Moore of Rockville told the judge she believed Dwyer merited a "severe punishment."

"I'm glad the judge took everything into consideration," she said outside the courthouse.

She said her daughter, 5, suffered skull fractures and brain injuries and has since had problems with balance, memory and emotional issues. A son, 7, suffered a broken arm, she said. Both are still receiving care for their injuries, she said.

Nicholas Everett, a seventh-grade neighborhood child injured in the collision, told Wilcox he used to love boating, but now is "terrified to be on the water."

Dwyer, 55, had faced five charges — the most serious was operating a boat under the influence, which carries a maximum jail term of a year. Other charges were reckless operation and negligent operation of a vessel, failure to register the boat and a rules-of-the-road violation. Those lesser charges were dropped under terms of the plea agreement, but will resurface when the case comes up in Circuit Court, Fischer said.

After the crash, Dwyer, a legislator since 2002 who is seeking re-election, was moved off a House committee that oversees criminal matters, including drunken driving. He was placed on the Ways and Means Committee. A conviction would not require that he resign from office.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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