One of two drivers who were charged in a crash on Interstate 695 in Baltimore County that killed six construction workers pleaded guilty on Wednesday to six counts of negligent vehicular manslaughter.

Melachi Duane Darnell Brown, 20, of Windsor Mill, stood next to his attorney, Jennifer Kafes, and cast his eyes down at the defense table in a courtroom in the Baltimore County Courts Building as he accepted responsibility for his role in the crash, which happened at about 12:30 p.m. on the inner loop of I-695 on March 22, 2023. Circuit Judge Vicki Ballou-Watts scheduled sentencing for March 28.

Assistant State’s Attorney Felise Kelly said she would recommend a sentence of 60 years in prison, with all time suspended but 1 1/2 years in the Baltimore County Detention Center, plus 3 years’ probation.

As part of the plea agreement, Brown will not receive credit for the time he spent incarcerated and on home detention while awaiting trial. He has to perform 40 hours of community service and abstain from driving.

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The sentencing guidelines, she said, call for a punishment that ranges from three months in jail to 24 years in prison.

If the judge hands down a sentence that’s above the recommendation from the state, Brown is not permitted to withdraw his guilty pleas.

Kelly read a lengthy statement of facts in support of the plea agreement:

On that afternoon, Lisa Adrienne Lea, 55, of Randallstown, tried to move into the passing lane and hit a car that Brown was driving. They were both going more than 120 mph five seconds before the crash.

The speed limit is 55 mph.

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Next, Lea spun out, traveled through a more than 150-foot opening in the concrete barriers that separated a work zone from the rest of the highway, overturned multiple times and fatally struck the six construction workers.

As Kelly recounted their devastating injuries, loved ones cried in the gallery of the courtroom.

Lea was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma with non-life-threatening injuries, and troopers noticed that she had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. She had prescription medications and cannabis in her system and told investigators that her vision went black, like a seizure she experiencedfive years earlier, and crashed.

Two witnesses provided dashcam video. A Maryland Department of Transportation camera also captured the crash.

At the time of impact, Lea was driving 108 mph. Meanwhile, Brown was going 111 mph.

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Brown was not hurt and stayed on the scene. He wrote a statement and claimed that he had been driving 60 mph.

The Maryland State Police identified the construction workers who were killed as Rolando Ruiz, 46, of Laurel; Carlos Orlando Villatoro Escobar, 43, of Frederick; Jose Armando Escobar, 52, of Frederick; Mahlon Simmons III, 31, of Union Bridge; Mahlon Simmons II, 52, of Union Bridge; and Sybil Lee DiMaggio, 46, of Glen Burnie.

A Baltimore Banner data analysis found that there were only 12 other crashes in work zones between 1980 and 2020 that resulted in more deaths in the United States.

Lea was approved for home detention and is scheduled to stand trial on April 1.

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