SNOW HILL — A Cockeysville, Md. man, who pleaded guilty in November to negligent manslaughter by motor vehicle after causing a fiery crash in Ocean City that claimed the life of a Princess Anne man, was sentenced late Friday afternoon to 17 years in prison, the maximum allowable sentence in the case.
In November, Todd Pivec, 41, of Cockeysville, pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter by motor vehicle and driving a vehicle not equipped with ignition interlock as required by an earlier conviction. After an emotional, often gut-wrenching hours-long hearing, Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Beau Oglesby sentenced Pivec to 15 years for the negligent manslaughter count, or the maximum allowed under the agreed-upon guidelines, and another two years for the ignition interlock conviction, which was also the maximum allowed under the statute.
According to details that emerged during Friday’s sentencing hearing, the case was dripping with tragic irony for several reasons. For one, the victim in the case was working as a Lyft driver at the time of the crash and Pivec had allegedly turned down repeated offers by bar staffers to call a cab for him or arrange a ride-share just prior to the incident.
Around 1:15 a.m. on June 21, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) received a call about a reported drunk driver leaving an uptown bar and a description of the vehicle. OCPD officers located the suspect vehicle, a white Lexus LX570, in the area of 59th Street and Coastal Highway and attempted to stop it.
According to crash investigators, the driver, later identified as Pivec, failed to stop and continued southbound on Coastal Highway. Pivec was speeding and the vehicle failed to stay in its designated lane at different times during the pursuit during a heavy rainfall.
OCPD officers briefly lost sight of Pivec’s vehicle according to police reports. Moments later, Pivec’s vehicle struck another vehicle heading south on Coastal Highway in the area of 46th Street. According to court documents, Pivec’s vehicle was traveling at 93 miles per hour at the time of the collision.
The force of the collision caused the victim’s vehicle to become engulfed in flames. The victim, identified as Seifeldawla Alfaki, 51, of Princess Anne, could not get out of the burning vehicle and was pronounced deceased at the scene. Following the collision, Pivec’s vehicle overturned and eventually came to rest after crashing into a utility pole at 45th Street.
According to police reports, Pivec then crawled from the wrecked vehicle and attempted to flee on foot, but was immediately taken into custody by OCPD officers. According to police reports, Pivec resisted the OCPD’s attempts to handcuff him and ultimately had to be tackled to the ground by officers, according to police reports.
Pivec, who was not injured in the crash, exhibited signs of intoxication and stumbled as he walked. It was also noted in the police report Pivec defecated on himself at some point during the incident. He was taken to Atlantic General Hospital for a mandatory blood draw, which later resulted in a blood-alcohol content of .20, or well over double the legal limit.
A background check revealed a long history of drunk-driving offenses for Pivec, including some for which he was able to avoid jail time and instead received probation. According to court records, on at least two occasions he had been required to install an ignition interlock in his vehicle, but on that night he was driving a company vehicle without the drunk-driving deterrent installed.
Prosecutor, Victim’s Family Press for Maximum
At the outset of Friday’s sentencing hearing, Worcester County Assistant State’s Attorney Jared Monteiro outlined some of Pivec’s prior criminal history leading up to the tragic incident in June.
“It paints a troubling picture,” he said. “His record certainly shows a history of reckless behavior behind the wheel of a car and a disregard for supervision. Through all of these cases, Mr. Pivec has not been amenable to rehabilitation and the state is not convinced that will change in the near future.”
Monteiro did not discount Pivec’s clear and widely accepted history of addiction and alcohol abuse.
“The danger he presents could be attributable to some underlying mental health issue,” he said. “Regardless, at some point an individual becomes such a danger it becomes necessary to move them from society for a lengthy period of time. I’m not sure he will be any different if he is shown any leniency.”
Monteiro said a review of the defendant’s past points to a collision course of sorts that led to the June crash.
“It was almost inevitable that this would eventually be the outcome,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine this would not always be the outcome. It’s nothing less than troubling. None of this has had any effect in thwarting his behavior and he has shown no healthy respect for consequences. What other option to we have but removing him from society for a lengthy period of time.”
At the end of the day, the victim is deceased and Pivec’s life will go on, regardless of the pending sentence in the case, Monteiro pointed out.
“The end result of all of this is a life has been taken in the most senseless way,” he said. “The victim’s life is gone and his family is paying for Mr. Pivec’s decisions. His family now has to live an entirely different life. Unfair does not begin to describe these circumstances.”
Monteiro also pointed out the irony of the victim being a working Lyft driver at the time and Pivec reportedly turning down offers to get a cab or a ride-share.
“He was given the opportunity by the bar staff to take a cab or an Uber and he chose to drive anyway,” he said. “He put himself before everybody else that night. The sad irony is the victim was working as a Lyft driver that night. If Pivec had taken that opportunity, it would have been someone like the victim or maybe the victim himself picking him up and getting him home safely.”
For all of those reasons, Monteiro said the maximum was the only sentence that made sense in the case.
“When you consider all of the aggravating factors, I don’t believe anything less than the maximum is appropriate in this case,” he said. “I have zero confidence he will not engage in the same behavior. Removal from the community is the only remedy in this case.”
Next, the victim’s wife addressed the court through an interpreter in perhaps the most gut-wrenching element of the hours-long sentencing hearing.
“The most difficult thing in life is to talk about someone who is no longer with us,” she said. “He was my husband and my friend. He was everything to me in life.”
Alfacki’s wife said her husband was scrambling to scratch out a living to support her and their infant child at the time of the incident in June.
“He was working two jobs so I didn’t have to work outside the home and I could take care of our newborn child,” she said. “He wanted me to be a full-time mother. All he did in life was work hard to provide for us.”
The victim’s wife related details of that fateful morning when she heard the tragic news.
“One day, I was awakened by others who told me my husband was gone,” she said. “How can I continue life without the husband I loved very much? I cannot find any excuse that a man would drink and drive and put others’ lives in danger. He was the only family I have here and I don’t have him anymore.”
Defense Team Paints Alternative Picture of Defendant
When it was their turn to address the court, defense attorneys John Turnbull III and Adele Brockmeyer attempted to paint the defendant in a more flattering light and expressed the tragic loss felt by family and friends on both sides of the courthouse following the devastating loss in June.
“One of the most important aspects of sentencing in these cases is they rip the heart out of both families,” Turnbull said. “I urge the court to resist looking at Mr. Pivec as all bad, because it would be very easy to do when the look at the totality of the circumstances.”
Oglesby assured the defense attorneys he would not in this case, nor in any of the cases before him, look for just the bad in a defendant. Turnbull then set about outlining some of the background that led to the tragic collision that night.
“It is not lost on Todd that he has derailed the life of his family and friends, certainly not to the extent the lives of the victim’s family and friends have been derailed,” he said. “How did the train get to this station? Where does it go from here?”
Turnbull did not hesitate to paint a rather idyllic image of Pivec’s upbringing and the success of his family business and later the company he started on his own. He said all of that began to unravel following Pivec’s divorce from his wife in 2009.
“His family did not want for anything,” he said. “He was probably overindulged even by today’s standards. How did that train leave the station? Todd learned at a young age to cope with problems with alcohol. Following his divorce, you begin to see a consistent pattern of criminal and traffic offenses and the common denominator in all of them has been alcohol.”
The defense called on a family friend who has acted as a big sister of sorts to Pivec’s young daughters and related how he has essentially been a father and mother to them since his divorce and there was no disputing by either side he has not been a devoted father and family man.
Brockmeyer spoke on behalf of Pivec’s daughters, who were not present at sentencing but wrote lengthy messages to the judge on his behalf. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from those written sentiments was one of the children’s assertion “Dad puts everyone else first before his own problems,” an ironic statement that was referenced before during the proceedings and would be again.
Turnbull also presented other two witnesses, ministers who have met with Pivec several times in the months during which he has been incarcerated. Each said Pivec has been contrite and has expressed a desire to change and rehabilitate. Turnbull pointed out although many incarcerated individuals find religion or seek spiritual guidance, he believed Pivec was sincere about it.
“I don’t believe this is an act,” he said. “I have no reason to believe he is not sincere. He was done something that can’t be undone and it has shaken him to his core.”
Somewhat oddly, the defense attorney essentially admitted Pivec has been able to skirt around previous run-ins with the law, but could not in this tragic case.
“He has been able to talk, work or charm his way out of everything,” he said. “This incident has a finality he can’t cure with his charisma. I don’t sugarcoat a lot. I think his charming personality has allowed his to mask some serious underlying mental and addiction issues.”
Turnbull said he was not asking for leniency in sentencing and that Pivec and his family along with the defense team was expecting the worst. However, he said Pivec has expressed a desire to seek help, serve his time and begin to make amends.
“When I talk to Todd, his goal more than anything else is to get healthy and begin to find a way to help other people,” he said. “He knows he needs to make good on this somehow. I’m just trying to plant a seed for hope. At some point, regardless of the sentence, he will be out of jail and able-bodied. Isn’t it better to have him come out of this healthy and rehabilitated?”
Defendant Gets His Chance, Appears Contrite
For his part, Pivec listened attentively to the testimony, both against him and on his behalf, and appeared anguished, judging by his body language. When it was his turn to address the court, Pivec did not shy away from responsibility and vowed to make amends.
“There is very little I can say,” he said. “I am 100% guilty of the charges against me and I take full responsibility for everything I’ve done. My decisions that night took a life and created a lifetime of pain for many others. I can’t change the past. It’s what a man does in the wake of a tragedy that defines his character.”
Pivec said he was remorseful for the pain and anguished he caused for his family and friends.
“I’m ashamed of what I’ve done,” he said. “For all of the success I’ve had in life, I’ve brought great shame on myself and my family. I’m a good person who made bad decisions. I’m the person you’ve read about in all of those letters, not the person you’ve read about in the papers.”
Pivec also appeared genuinely remorseful for the victim’s family.
“I can’t imagine the pain the victim’s family is feeling,” he said. “I want his wife to know just how extremely sorry I am and if I could take it back somehow, I would.”
Judge Weighs In Before Sentencing
Oglesby started by recounting the details in the case, from a night of excessive drinking at an uptown bar to the point he was cut off by the bartenders. He pointed out the bar staff asked, rather practically begged, Pivec to let them call a cab or an Uber for him, and yet he chose to drive. He provided details about Pivec’s vehicle barreling down Coastal Highway at speeds reaching 93 mph before colliding with the victim’s vehicle, causing it to leave the roadway, strike a building and burst into flames.
“I don’t know if this can be described as an accident,” he said. “This was a crash that was entirely preventable. I can never characterize this as an accident.”
Oglesby then presented Pivec’s laundry list of offenses from his criminal history, including burglary and assault, to his lengthy number of drunk-driving arrests.
“This is a lengthy criminal history and a long history of probation,” he said. “The terms of probation in nearly every case included requiring you to get the help you need. You failed to take advantage of those opportunities at every turn.”
Oglesby pointed out by Pivec’s own admission he was a chronic drunk-driver.
“Your traffic history reveals a lot of contact with law enforcement for drinking and driving,” he said. “I’m confident you were intoxicated or at least impaired in all of those cases regardless of the outcome. You’ve admitted yourself in interviews you have driven drunk thousands of times.”
Oglesby said if at any time during Pivec’s established checkered past he had taken advantage of the treatment and rehabilitation opportunities afforded him, that night in June could have been avoided.
“I point out these cases because you’ve been the recipient of good fortune, good luck, a good attorney or some other circumstances that resulted in you walking away from those cases,” he said. “Had you been prosecuted and had treatment been a part of that, it might have prevented how we got here today.”
The judge said the current case and Pivec’s prior history did not disparage his personal life as a father, family member and friend, as evidenced by the dozens of letters he received on the defendant’s behalf. Nonetheless, he pointed out nobody had the opportunity to write similar letters on the victim’s behalf because he is now gone.
“I’ve read all of the letters,” he said. “No one is being critical of you in your capacity as a good father. People love you and most said they respect you. With every letter I read, I could imagine a similar letter being written on behalf of the victim, including how good a father he was and how much he was loved in the community. I can’t escape that fact.”
Oglesby said Pivec had been afforded every opportunity to avoid that fateful night in June. He also pointed to the irony of a comment made in the letter from his daughters.
“You have a history of flashing lights in your face telling you “Todd, you have a problem,’ and you never took advantage of the support system to address it,” he said. “Your daughter wrote you always put everyone else first and I’m sure she’s sincere. On that date, you didn’t care about anyone else but yourself.”
Oglesby said the forthcoming sentencing was not about Pivec’s personal and family life, but rather about the specific incident at hand.
“This sentence is not an indictment of you as a father, a son or a brother,” he said. “It’s an indictment of what you did that day. You could have avoided this entire incident if you had been strong enough to address your problem. This was entirely preventable. My job with sentencing is punishment, yes, public safety, absolutely, and the hope for rehabilitation, certainly.”
Oglesby said the case before him, like so many others, was fraught with difficulties.
“I take no joy in imposing this sentence,” he said. “I seriously considered everything. You have a life beyond today and you have a responsibility to make the very best of it and I wish you luck. I believe this sentence is appropriate under the circumstances.”