SNOW HILL — An Ocean Pines man, who was high on PCP when he crashed his truck into a vehicle seriously injuring a mother and her then 18-month-old daughter, plead guilty this morning to all 11 charges against him, including causing life-threatening injuries by motor vehicle while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance and now awaits his fate pending the outcome of a pre-sentence investigation.
With much of the drama, including hours of testimony by witnesses and police officers, dispensed with during a motions hearing in June, Andre Kaczynski, 48, on Wednesday essentially pleaded no contest to all of the charges against him. After Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby read the ominous statement of facts in the case, Worcester Circuit Court Judge Thomas C. Groton found Kaczynski guilty on all 11 counts.
Kaczynski, who had been out of jail on bond since the Dec. 16, 2011 incident, had his combined $120,000 in bonds revoked by Groton, who ordered him to be remanded to the custody of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office until an as-yet-undetermined sentencing hearing. Kaczynski was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs while the victims’ family and friends hugged in relative silence and quietly filed out of the courtroom.
In a prepared statement, Oglesby said Kaczynski’s guilty plea to all counts was the only plausible outcome, given the facts of the case and the weight of evidence against the defendant.
“The defendant admitting guilt to all charges without receiving any consideration from the state was the only acceptable way to proceed with this case without having a trial,” he said.
For the two main counts against him, including the two charges of causing life-threatening injuries while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance, PCP in this case, Kaczynski faces up to two years for each count.
During the 2012 General Assembly session, state lawmakers passed a bill to enhance the penalties associated with the driving while impaired with legislation appropriately called “Ava’s Law,” on behalf of Kaczynski’s victim. The law increased the allowable incarceration from two years to three years and raised the fine from $3,000 to $5,000. However, the new law was passed after the accident and is not retroactive.
Kaczynski also pleaded guilty to driving while impaired by PCP, two counts of possession of PCP, aggressive driving, negligent driving, reckless driving, failure to control speed to avoid an accident, speeding and possession of marijuana. The net combined sentence he faces is uncertain, but with four years allowed for the two main counts, along with the nine other convictions, Kaczynski likely faces double-digit years behind bars.
Around mid-day last Dec. 16, Kaczynski drove his Ford F150 truck into the rear of a vehicle stopped at a traffic light on Coastal Highway at a high rate of speed. During the proceedings on Wednesday, Oglesby said an analysis revealed Kaczynski’s truck was traveling just shy of 100 mph prior to the collision and over 90 mph at the time of impact.
Kaczynski collided with the back of the vehicle stopped at the traffic light, seriously injuring then 18-month-old Ava DelRicco and her mother. The child had to be extricated from the totaled vehicle and was flown to Hopkins in Baltimore. Kaczynski’s own vehicle burst into flames and a later search of the truck revealed a bottle of PCP and a subsequent urine test revealed the presence of PCP.
Perhaps the most intriguing and damning piece of evidence presented at the motions hearing in June was a videotaped interview with Kaczynski during which the suspect outlined some of the details leading up to his ill-fated high speed drive up Coastal Highway.
In the videotaped interview, Kaczynski told the investigating officers he had been out at a local bar the night before and got 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 remember the crash. He said he remembered making a left turn off Route 90 when he reached Ocean City, but he didn’t remember 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.
Also during the motions hearing in June, Oglesby called on a line-up of Ocean City police officers to paint for the judge 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. 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.”
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?’”
Karnitz 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 mph,” said Karsnitz. “He said he was sure the driver was going to have a bad accident.”
During Wednesday’s plea hearing, Oglesby reported a witness statement confirming the high rate of speed at which Kaczynski was driving just prior to the collision with the DelRicco’s vehicle. The witness said he saw Kaczynski’s vehicle roaring up behind him at speeds estimated at 100 mph and the witness braced for a pending collision, but Kaczynski swerved across two lanes at the last second and moved back into the far right lane. According to the testimony, the witness reported hearing the collision seconds late, even though he was still blocks away from the crash scene.
OCPD Pfc. Eddie Newcomb testified in June 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.