Thomas Daniel Hawks told police that he drank 10 beers at a Washington Redskins game before setting out in his Chevrolet Silverado, a prosecutor said Monday. The Mejia family of five had attended church before leaving in their Honda Accord.
They would meet in a horrific moment on a Sunday night in December. The Silverado was traveling on Indian Head Highway in Prince George’s County at nearly 70 miles per hour when it slammed into the rear of the Accord, which was stopped at a traffic light.
The impact was so violent that the Accord’s roof was peeled off and the Silverado was hurled aloft. “It flew up in the air and crushed the car,” said Jennifer Rush, a Prince George’s County assistant state’s attorney.
The pickup truck’s front wheels landed on the Accord’s back seat, killing the Mejias’ three children: 5-year-old twins, Alexander and Rosalie, and 1-year-old Isaac. The parents, Alexis and Juana, were severely hurt but survived.
Police found Hawks uninjured behind the wheel of his truck, muttering into his cellphone repeatedly: “I messed up.”
Hawks, 27, of White Plains, Md., pleaded guilty in Prince George’s County Circuit Court on Monday to three counts of vehicular manslaughter and two counts of causing serious bodily injury while driving drunk as part of a deal. He will face up to 36 years in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 26.
[ Drunk driver charged in crash that kills three kids ]
The Mejias, of Falls Church, Va., and dozens of supporters packed the courtroom for the hearing, wearing buttons featuring a photo of the three children. Juana Mejia cried loudly as prosecutors described the crash.
After the hearing, she spoke of the anguish of losing three children as her husband held her with one arm around her shoulders. She said her children’s deaths served as a tragic reminder of the costs of drinking and driving.
“We’re so happy that this is almost over,” Juana Mejia said. “A little bit of tranquility is what we need. And even though this is not going to heal us, I know that my beautiful children are looking down and saying, ‘Good job to Mommy and Daddy for fighting.’ “
Rush said the crash occurred about 9:40 p.m. on Dec. 30, near Indian Head Highway and Kerby Hill Road. The speed limit there is 45 mph, but Hawks was traveling nearly 25 mph faster shortly before the wreck. All three children were pronounced dead at the scene.
Rush said Hawks refused to leave his vehicle after the crash and was gripping the steering wheel as officers tried to remove him. She said that he was swaying and stumbling after officers got him out and that he told them that he had been drinking.
At one point, Hawks fell backward off a guardrail he was sitting on because he was so intoxicated, Rush said. He fell asleep inside a police cruiser and later asked an officer to shoot him, saying that he “wanted to die,” Rush said.
Hawks’s blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he was tested at a police station, Rush said.
During the hearing, Hawks spoke only when answering questions from his attorney and a judge. He showed little emotion as he sat at the defendant’s table in a black suit. His attorney, Hammad Matin, said in court that his client takes “full responsibility” for what happened. His relatives attended the hearing but declined to comment.
The crash sparked alarm among those who travel along Indian Head Highway and lawmakers who have long had concerns about the stretch of road that AAA calls one of the deadliest in the Washington region.
After the crash, lawmakers approved three more speed cameras along that highway.
The Mejias were hospitalized for more than a week after the crash. Alexis Mejia suffered a severe concussion and blood clots in his brain. Juana Mejia had broken ribs and now has chronic back pain that may never go away, Rush said.
But those injuries never warranted a mention as Juana Mejia spoke after the hearing. Her sole focus was on her children. She said June 24 was the twins’ birthday. Instead of throwing a party, the couple spent the day at their graves.
“We had so many plans with them,” she said. “We’ve missed so many precious moments with them. It will forever hurt us.”
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