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The evidence does not warrant criminal charges.” – Queen Anne County State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil Jr. on his decision not to criminally prosecute Candy Baldwin, who caused a vehicle crash on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in August that killed truck driver John Short

These are the stories that make doubt if we are really concerned about highway safety in this country of ours.

FACT: Candy Lynn Baldwin, 19, of Millington, MD, is returning to the Eastern Shore from a family wedding in Baltimore on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 4 a.m. Driving at high speed on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Falls asleep at the wheel of her Chevrolet Camaro. Her car crosses the center line of the eastbound span of the bridge (being used at the time for two-way traffic for U.S. Route 50). An oncoming tractor trailer, driven by John Robert Short, 57, swerves to avoid hitting her Camaro, rams the concrete abutments on the side of the bridge, breaks through, crashes into the dark waters below. Short is killed.

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FACT: Candy Lynn Baldwin, 19, registers a blood-alcohol level shortly after the crash at .03 – below the legal limit of .07 for impairment and below the .08 threshold to be considered under the influence, certainly – but, as she’s under the age 21, she’s not allowed to have ANY alcohol in her system.

FACT: Candy Lynn Baldwin has a history of speeding offenses. She pleaded guilty in Kent County District Court, MD, in 2006 and 2007 for driving 70 mph in a 50-mph zone and 72 in a 55-mph zone, respectively, receiving probation before judgment in both cases, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper

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FACT: Candy Lynn Baldwin will face several traffic charges, including failing to drive right of center and negligent driving. She also faces a charge for violating a license restriction on drivers younger than 21, who are not allowed to have any alcohol in their systems. But she will NOT be criminally prosecuted for this fatal accident. She will serve no jail time.

Now, I’ve said this before in this space and I’ll say it again: If the roles were reversed in this situation – if a truck driver had been up all night at a wedding then got on the highway with alcohol in his system and killed someone in a crash – there would’ve been a huge outcry over this. If the truck driver didn’t get jail time, you can bet your bottom dollar the vitriol would’ve spewed forth long and loud about it.

You would’ve seen press releases from Public Citizen and its offshoot Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), along with Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) condemning the truck driver and the whole industry in broad strokes. Joan Claybrook would’ve been holding a televised press conference near the bridge to denounce such truck driver conduct, condemning spineless law enforcement in the same breath for not throwing the book at him (or her). Politicians of all stripes would’ve been quick to jump into the fray, waving to the flag of highway safety to and fro.

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So where is the outcry? The Baltimore Examiner published an opinion piece of on the subject online – and received just one comment. Where are all the so-called highway safety advocates? Alcohol, fatigue, high speed, and a driver with a prior speeding record are all involved here. Where are all the politicians? Why does this incident garner nary a whiff of interest from such quarters?

[I seem to recall Ms. Claybrook recently saying “my work for a just society will never end.” Her silence on this incident is quite deafening.]

Quenn Anne County State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil Jr. said in his three page release on this case that Maryland does not have a law pertaining to sleeping at the wheel, explaining that most fatal accidents – including this one – do not fall within the “gross negligence” requirement for manslaughter.

Oh really? If the case involved a fatality resulting from a truck driver falling asleep at the wheel, you’d find the term “gross negligence” stamped all over the files in big red letters. Why are the rules suddenly different for car drivers?

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Now let’s be clear here about something else – I am glad Ms. Baldwin is not being prosecuted. She admitted to her conduct, took responsibility for it, and apologized to the Short family. Doesn’t bring Mr. Short back, but she’s shown remorse. She broke both her kneecaps and bruised her spleen and liver in this accident – she’ll bear the physical and emotional scars of this incident for the rest of her life.

She did NOT deliberately go out and plan to crash. She wasn’t driving recklessly to my knowledge – just too fast with senses dulled by fatigue and alcohol. She should never have gotten behind the wheel … but she’s suffered enough.

I would also say the same about a truck driver, too – though I’d pull their CDL for life.

Yet the question remains – is this a fair decision, given that it’s a fatal accident? More importantly, what does it say about our commitment to improving highway safety?

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