SNOW HILL — Stunning new details emerged yesterday afternoon during a motions hearing for the Ocean Pines man allegedly high on PCP when he crashed into a vehicle on Coastal Highway in December, seriously injuring a mother and her then-18-month-old daughter.
Tuesday’s testimony featured an admission that the suspect had smoked the drug while crossing the Route 90 bridge into the resort minutes before the collision and that he vaguely remembers making a left turn at the foot of the bridge and remembers almost nothing that happened after that.
Around mid-day on Dec. 16, 2011, Andre Kaczynski, 48, of Ocean Pines, crashed his Ford F150 pickup truck into the rear of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light on Coastal Highway at 142nd Street at speeds estimated between 70 moh and 100 mph, seriously injuring then-18-month-old Ava DelRicco and her mother. The child had to be extracted from the totaled vehicle and was flown to Hopkins in Baltimore.
Kaczynski’s vehicle burst into flames after the collision and a later search of the truck revealed a container of suspected PCP on the driver’s side floor. The narcotic in the bottle was later confirmed as PCP, and the presence of PCP was indicated in the suspect’s urine during a test at the hospital following the collision.
In Worcester County Circuit Court yesterday, a hearing was held on several pre-trial motions including an attempt to suppress any statements Kaczynski made to police following the collision, a motion to exclude the search of his vehicle following the crash and a motion calling into question the validity of a later search warrant for the suspect’s Ocean Pines residence.
After hours of testimony from the OCPD officers involved in different aspects of the investigation, perhaps the most intriguing piece of evidence reviewed was a video-taped interview with Kaczynski during which the suspect outlined some of the details leading up to the ill-fated high speed drive up Coastal Highway and the subsequent tragic collision.
In the videotaped interview, which was played in court before Baby Ava and her family as well as the suspect, Kaczynski told the investigating officers he had been out at a local bar the night before and woke up around 7 a.m. on the morning of the collision. He said he used PCP that morning and ran some errands before returning to his house in Ocean Pines. He later got a call from an individual in Delaware about a contracting job and hit the road for a meeting with the potential client.
When asked about the last thing he remembered that morning, Kaczynski in the videoed interview said he was driving for some reason and that he wanted to get there in a hurry. When asked how fast he was going, the suspect said he didn’t remember. When asked what he did remember, Kaczynski said he didn’t have memory of the crash. He said he remembered making a left turn when he reached Ocean City, but he didn’t recall anything after that. When asked about the last time he smoked PCP, Kaczynski told the investigating officers he smoked the drug while crossing the bridge into Ocean City.
Those in attendance in court on Tuesday, including Ava’s parents, family and friends, watched the video interview in stunned silence. Ava, who is reportedly on the mend but still suffering serious effects from the crash, was present in the courtroom during the proceedings.
Before the video was shown, however, State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby called on a line-up of OCPD officers to paint for Judge Thomas Groton a picture of the events leading up to and following the fateful crash. Each of the officers testified about their contact with the suspect immediately after the collision and throughout the rest of the day and each painted a picture of an incoherent, dazed suspect. Granted, Kaczynski had just been in a high-speed collision during which his airbag deployed, but each of the officers described him as a man clearly under the influence of something. For example, OCPD Detective Jeff Smith was the first on the scene and made the initial contact with Kaczynski.
“When I asked him if he knew where he was, he said home,” said Smith. “When I asked him what day it was, he said it was Christmas. Then he asked me if I had punched him in the face.”
Smith said he had been around accident victims several times in the past, but Kaczynski’s behavior made him believe he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“He was very strange,” he said. “He wasn’t coherent. He seemed, the best way to describe it, very low or depressed almost. The tone of his voice didn’t change and I struggled to hear him. It was almost like a person falling asleep.”
Smith also testified Kaczynski was emanating an odd odor suggesting he had been using drugs.
“He had a really weird odor coming from him, a faint, strange chemical odor, and I thought he might be high,” he said. “I realize he had just been in a crash, but he had a very strange demeanor. He was just very, very strange.”
OCPD Pfc. Michael Karsnitz testified he also encountered Kaczynski after arriving on the scene and meeting briefly with Smith.
“I approached him and he didn’t appear to know what was going on,” said Karsnitz. “He was confused and was giving odd answers to the questions I asked him. At one point, he looked at the truck and said “I was driving that?’”
Karsnitz told the court as the first uniformed officer on the scene, he was quickly inundated by witnesses who wanted to tell their versions of the events leading up to the crash.
“One witness I talked to at the scene said he was working at 120th Street and saw the truck going by at around 100 miles per hour,” said Karsnitz. “He said he was sure the driver was going to have a bad accident.”
OCPD Forensic Crime Scene Technician Shari Shultz said he searched the vehicle as part of her protocol and found a small, white bottle or vial of suspected controlled dangerous substance on the driver’s side floor. The substance later tested positive for PCP.
OCPD Pfc. Eddie Newcomb told the court he followed the ambulance carrying Kaczynski to PRMC and spent about four hours with the suspect while he was being treated. Newcomb said the two conversed with small talk but didn’t talk about the specifics of the case. Newcomb said Kaczynski asked what had happened and asked about the condition of his truck, but didn’t ask anything about the victims. Newcomb said Kaczynski “felt bad” about the truck because he had just gotten it recently. After Kaczynski was cleared for release at PRMC, he was taken into custody and driven back to the Public Safety Building in Ocean City for booking and processing.
Defense Attorney Arch McFadden asked Newcomb if Kaczynski had been read his Miranda rights at the time he was taken into custody at the hospital. Newcomb told the court the suspect had not been read his Miranda rights and that any questions he had posed to Kaczynski specific to the crash had been asked at the scene as part of the collision investigation. McFadden asked if Newcomb had inquired from the doctors and nurses about Kaczynski’s medical condition or any medication he had taken, to the officer replied he hadn’t.
OCPD Sgt. Ronnie Townsend testified he first encountered Kaczynski around 7:42 p.m. that night when the suspect was brought to the interview room in the Public Safety Building. Townsend, along with Det. James Rodriguez, read aloud the Miranda rights document and the waiver of counsel, asking the suspect at each point whether he understood the forms and having him initial and sign at the most salient points.
After asking Kaczynski about background information such as full name, address, phone numbers etc., Townsend embarked on a line of questioning in an attempt to determine what the suspect had been doing in the 24 hours prior to the collision. Townsend said the questions were part of his normal protocol in accident investigations to help determine the mental state and physical condition of a suspect.
The purpose of the hearing on Tuesday was to consider several pre-trial motions including an attempt to suppress any statements Kaczynski made to police officer at the scene, at the hospital or following his arrest. However, after hearing hours of testimony and watching the 48-minute video-taped interview, the judge ruled against the motion to suppress any of Kaczynski’s statements.
“What is there to suppress?” Groton asked. “It was a chaotic scene and the officers were in a status where they were trying to figure out what happened. I don’t see where anything he said at the scene was culpatory.”
In terms of the later interview, Groton said it appeared to be legal and legitimate and followed the exact protocol.
“It was very non-threatening,” he said. “It was all copasetic. He was willingly giving information and I don’t see where he was threatened in any way. I’m satisfied based on the evidence that in no way were his rights violated.”
In terms of the motion calling into question the search of Kaczynski’s truck following the collision, Groton again ruled protocol was followed and denied the motion. Finally, McFadden called into question the validity of a search warrant served on the suspect’s Ocean Pines home, which revealed the presence of an acetone frequently used in the preparation of PCP in the suspect’s trash cans outside the home.
“There is no nexus between the events of Dec. 16 and the search warrant at my client’s home on Dec. 22,” McFadden argued.
However, Groton disagreed and denied the motion.
“I find there is more than sufficient evidence of probable cause,” he said.