SNOW HILL – A Berlin man, arrested last June on several serious charges after killing a bicyclist and injuring another with his vehicle on the Route 50 Bridge before fleeing the scene, pleaded guilty last week in District Court to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving bodily injury and was immediately incarcerated until the completion of a pre-sentence investigation.
Daniel M. Bren, 35, appeared in District Court in Snow Hill last Friday to stand trial for a variety of offenses related to an incident on June 26 last year when he struck two bicyclists with his vehicle on the Harry Kelley Bridge, killing one and injuring the other, before fleeing the scene and leading witnesses on a chase through West Ocean City before eventually being caught miles from the scene of the accident.
Bren pleaded guilty to automobile manslaughter, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail, and leaving the scene of an accident involving bodily injury, which carries a maximum one-year sentence. Judge Gerald Purnell ordered a pre-sentence investigation and ordered Bren to remain behind bars until its completion, which he said could be four to six months.
Bren appeared stoic in court last Friday while his attorneys, Leonard Stamm and Cullen Burke, along with William Jones, an assistant state’s attorney from Cambridge assigned as a special prosecutor in the case, and Purnell worked out the details of the plea arrangement. Jones said despite the maximum thresholds allowed for the charges, the state was recommending considerably lesser sentences for the two charges.
“The state is going to be recommending not more than 18 months for the auto manslaughter and one year for the leaving the scene charge, which would be the executed sentence without consideration for any suspended sentence,” he said.
However, Purnell said he would take the recommendation into consideration but had no pre-determined conceptions about Bren’s final sentencing.
“We spent most of the morning discussing this case and there are a lot of things to consider,” he said. “One of the things I told each side is that he will be going to jail today. I also said I would not be bound by the recommendations of the state, which are only parameters in this case.”
With that said, Purnell ordered Bren to be incarcerated for the duration of the pre-sentence investigation, which might not be completed until some time in the fall.
“You’re going to be incarcerated for a long time,” he said. “I’m sure you know how serious this is. A sentencing date probably won’t be set until October and you’ll be held until that time.”
A few more details about the case, as well as Bren’s immediate misunderstanding of the gravity of the incident, came to light during the hearing in District Court last week. According to the statement of facts, around 2:26 a.m. last Friday, Maryland State Police troopers were dispatched to the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge for a hit-and-run accident involving a motor vehicle and two bicyclists. The investigation revealed a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado, driven by Bren, was traveling westbound in the far right lane of the bridge when it struck two bicyclists from behind.
The two victims, identified as Edward Joseph Zisk, 41, and Maxim Matuzov, 20, both of Ocean City, were ejected from their bicycles. Matuzov sustained non-life threatening injuries and was transported to PRMC for treatment. Zisk, however, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Bren continued west across the bridge after the collision and was later apprehended after an attempt to flee the scene. A taxicab with a fare was crossing the bridge at the same time and the driver and the customer witnessed the collision.
The cab driver called 911 and pursued the suspect as he continued across the bridge after the collision. The cab driver stayed on the line with the police dispatcher as she pursued the Silverado across the bridge and onto Route 50. Bren then made a right turn on Golf Course Rd. and continued on, at which point one of bikes that had been run over blew out from beneath the truck. The second bike dislodged from under the truck further down Golf Course Rd., according to a witness.
The taxi cab driver with the witness still in tow pursued Bren down Golf Course Rd. while providing continual updates to police. According to the witness, Bren turned left on Center Drive and accelerated at a high rate of speed. The cab driver continued to pursue the suspect, but lost sight of him before reaching Keyser Point Rd.
A short time later, Maryland State Police troopers contacted the cab driver and told her the suspect had been stopped on westbound Route 50 near the WAC Center. Police advised the cab driver and her fare to proceed to the arrest site to identify the truck and the suspect. At the scene of the stop, Bren underwent field sobriety tests and was found to be operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, according to police reports.
It was revealed in court Bren was taken to AGH for a blood-alcohol test, which returned an outcome of .25, or over three times the legal limit. It was also learned last week Bren had an open beer in the center console of the truck at the time of the collision.
According to the statement of charges, Bren was not certain of the extent of the injuries to the victims, but soon began to figure it out based on the reports trickling in from the radio in the police cruiser in which he was being transported.
“He knew it was serious because he had been listening to the car radio,” the arresting officer noted in his report.
In another new detail, when Bren began to grasp the gravity of the situation, he questioned what the bicyclists were doing on the bridge in the first place, according to the statement of charges.
“Why were they in front of my truck?” he asked, according to the statement. “Why do they have to be always riding bikes and walking over there.”
Bren was arrested and charged with numerous criminal and traffic charges including negligent homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence and negligent homicide while impaired, along with negligent manslaughter by motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated, and failure to remain at the scene of a accident involving the death of another. As a condition of his plea bargain, the other charges were placed on the stet, or inactive, docket.