I recently came across a story in a small daily newspaper in Hagerstown, MD, The Herald-Mail, about Bryan May, a 45-year-old Boonsboro, MD man, who was implicated in a tragedy when his car drifted over the center divide, crashing into and killing Bradley Christman, 28, of Waynesboro, PA.
May’s blood alcohol level was .08, and though he hadn’t shown any signs of intoxication, he was legally drunk. May pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide while intoxicated and faced four years of prison time.
Somehow, Christman’s family found some level of forgiveness for May. At a sentencing hearing in March, Linda Christman, Bradley’s mother, watched as May’s sentence was reduced because, as Washington County Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Kessell put it, “the family had no wish to ruin an additional life.”
“They understood there wasn’t anything the criminal justice system could provide them that would bring their son back,” Kessell said recently in a phone interview.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of these types of cases. I’ve had situations where some families want the death penalty and I’ve had families that are compassionate, but I think this is the most compassionate family I’ve ever encountered,” he said.
May’s case was not typical, said Kessell. On July 26, after spending a day at a charity golf tournament — soaking in the sun and drinking, admittedly, four beers — May was driving his Dodge Ram on Mapleville Road when he crossed over the center line and collided with Christman’s Chevy Silverado. Witnesses driving behind May said he was not weaving or driving erratically, and he was going the speed limit. But after the crash, police smelled alcohol on his breath and his blood alcohol level just breached the threshold for illegality. From his home in Menomonee Falls, WI, Roger Christman said he realizes it was an accident that killed his son.
“The way we looked at it, you’re not going to bring (Brad) back, no matter what,” Christman said. “Everything had to fall in place just wrong for it to happen. … I realize (May) didn’t leave the golf course planning on killing Brad.”
Kessell said May had no prior criminal history and an established career, facts that were in his favor.
“It’s easy to look at these cases in the abstract and say, ‘This was an alcohol-related accident, let’s throw the book at him,’” Kessler said. “But in May’s case, as a prosecutor, I couldn’t say it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been drinking.”
Tragic accidents do happen. This tragedy took the life of a young man who had served eight years in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee. At 28, the future was almost entirely ahead of him.
Kessell read a letter from Christman’s mother to the court during the sentencing that described him as a “kind and generous person … He touched so many lives with his contagious laugh and infectious spirit.”
May is now at home serving three years of supervised probation. The first nine months of that probation he is confined to home detention that limits when, where and why he can leave his house. For instance, the 100 hours of community service he is to complete within 18 months. Would that be enough to satisfy you if this had happened to your son?
“Until you’ve been in this situation, it is hard to imagine how someone will respond — everyone has their own way of dealing with it,” read Linda Christman’s letter to the court.
I think I can imagine how I would respond and I admire how the Christman family dealt with their tragedy.