Judge Gives A ‘Big Break’ In House Crash Case

Judge Gives A ‘Big Break’ In House Crash Case

OCEAN CITY – A local man who crashed his truck into a
house on Caroline Street at the foot of the Route 50 bridge in April, causing
it to explode into a burst of flames, before “panicking” and fleeing the scene
pleaded guilty this week to four traffic-related charges but will not serve any
time behind bars.

Jay Mickell Benedict, 36, of Ocean City, was in District
Court this week facing a slew of traffic charges related to an incident on
April 3 when he sped across the Route 50 Bridge, failed to negotiate the turn
at Philadelphia Ave. and plowed into a residence on the corner of Caroline
Street. The collision ruptured a gas line at the house, causing it to burst
into flames.

Benedict left the scene and drove to his residence on
Edgewater Ave., while police, firefighters and paramedics responded to the
occupied house on Caroline Street. He then walked to a nearby bar on 8th
Street where he was taken into custody and charged with a slew of traffic
violations, none of them alcohol related, likely because he had been drinking
during the time between the accident and his arrest.

In a pre-arranged plea bargain in District Court in Ocean
City on Monday, Benedict pleaded guilty to driving without a license and
failure to remain at the scene of an accident involving property damage, each
of which carry a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail. He also pleaded guilty to
failure to control speed to avoid an accident and failure to provide insurance
information, which are payable citations without jail time.

After hearing testimony from the elderly couple displaced
from their home by the accident and subsequent explosion and reviewing
Benedict’s prior record and employment situation, visiting Judge Lloyd O.
Whitehead sentenced him to 60 days in jail for each of the first two
convictions, all of which he suspended in favor of probation and fines totaling
around $1,375.

Whitehead told Benedict to follow the conditions of his
probation to the letter and urged him not to appear in front of him for a
violation again.

“Don’t violate this probation,” he said. “You’re getting a
big break here.”

Before the statement of facts was read in the case,
Whitehead said he was familiar with the incident.

“Undoubtedly, I can recall this event and it was quite
spectacular,” he said.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence in Monday’s proceedings
came from Richard and Mary Manning, who were at home watching television on the
night Benedict crashed his truck into their residence, hitting a gas line and
causing it to burst into flames. They were able to escape relatively unharmed,
but their home was a complete loss.

“If it wasn’t for the police, the firemen and the
paramedics, this tragedy could have taken our lives,” he said. “I just want to
commend the men and women who saved our lives, because that’s just what they

Manning said the tragedy could have been much worse at a
different time of the year because of all the foot traffic in the area.

“What about the kids that walk by our house, or their
parents?” he said. “Mr. Benedict could have killed them. Now, my wife and I
have no house to live in.”

Manning urged the judge to utilize whatever was in his
power to punish Benedict under the charges against him and urged the defendant
to make amends with his maker.

“I hope he’s made his peace with God,” he said. “In the
meantime, he should be punished.”

Whitehead questioned why Benedict would flee the scene
when it was fairly evident someone could have been injured or even killed.

“This is a tragic situation,” he said. “What were you
thinking to leave the scene of this accident? There could have been somebody
really hurt or even worse.”

A remorseful Benedict told the court and the Mannings in a
brief statement he panicked in the moments after the accident and subsequent

“I deeply apologize,” he said. “I just panicked, I guess.
I apologize to the Mannings and I’m deeply sorry.”

Benedict’s attorney, Dean Jenkins, reiterated his client’s
deep remorse.

“Mr. Benedict apologizes for the trouble he has caused,”
said Jenkins. “He certainly used bad judgment. He panicked, is the best way I
can put it, but that doesn’t excuse him.”

Jenkins said he was working with his client’s insurance
carrier to negotiate a settlement and was confident the Mannings would be
awarded fair compensation. Jenkins also said he believed the town was
negotiating to purchase the property.

Because of the intricacies of the case, Jenkins said it
would not likely be appropriate to ask for restitution from Benedict directly,
although his client’s insurance carrier would likely agree to a fair

“We’re hoping and praying his insurance is adequate,” he
said. “I’ve met with their attorneys and I have no reason to believe they won’t
be compensated.”

Just prior to sentencing, Whitehead said he was not
leaning toward jail time for Benedict. Instead, he thought the defendant, who
is self-employed, should be working toward paying the fines and some sort of
restitution to the Mannings.

I do to this guy today isn’t really going to resolve this situation,” he said.
“I don’t know if anything can be accomplished by making him go to jail. I think
he needs to be out working so he can start chipping away at some sort of
settlement for these poor folks.”