ANNAPOLIS — Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess announced Wednesday, Dec. 4, that Judge Robert J. Thompson sentenced Christopher Dillehunt, 29, of Queenstown to 21 years in prison for one count of negligent manslaughter in the death of Laurel Zeiler and two counts of second-degree assault for two surviving victims.
“This is another tragic case showing the deadly consequences made by an individual who chose to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs,” Leitess said in a statement. “A mother and daughter were making a routine trip to the convenience store when the defendant’s criminal actions caused the death of Laurel Zeiler. I hope that today’s sentence brings some sense of peace to the families and deters other drivers who think about driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
On March 11, 2018, Dillehunt was driving a 2012 Ford Taurus with a passenger, Tammy Lawson, east on U.S. Route 50 when he exited onto Buschs Frontage Road. Dillehunt was traveling more than 70 mph and crossed the double yellow center line to pass a slower moving vehicle, police said. The speed limit on Buschs Frontage Road is 40 mph.
Laurel D. Zeiler, 81, and her daughter Cynthia L. Whittington, both of Arnold, were on their way to Wawa when Dillehunt’s 2012 Ford Taurus crossed the centerline and sideswiped the 2000 Toyota Camry driven by Zeiler, according to the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The Taurus then spun counterclockwise, still continuing east, and slid sideways into a westbound 2004 Ford F-150 truck driven by Kathi J. Ridgely of Lothian, who had Aaron Catterton as a passenger.
Zeiler was transported to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore where she later succumbed to her injuries. Ridgley, who was treated at Anne Arudnel Medical Center, sustained life-altering injuries, Leitess said.
Horrific is the word Tammy Darrow of Greensboro used to describe the crash. Darrow, who is with Hill Hounds Animal Rescue and Celebrating Pugs, was at the Wawa waiting to meet a rescue transport from Louisiana.
“It sounded like two big explosions. It was the worst sound I’d ever heard, the worst sound I’d ever heard, followed by the worst sight I’d ever seen,” Darrow said in an interview shortly after the crash. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything hit with such force.”
She and another animal rescue volunteer immediately ran to render aid before police and emergency medical responders reached the scene.
Darrow credited the first police officer to arrive with saving Dillehunt’s life. She said the officer climbed up over the trunk of the car and reached through the sunroof to hold Dillehunt’s head up and help him breathe.
Dillehunt kept nodding out, and the officer asked if they were on anything. The passenger told him they were both on heroin, Darrow said.
Police later said their investigation found Dillehunt and Lawson had traveled to the western shore to get heroin and, after using what they purchased, were on their way back to the Bay Bridge.
It took multiple doses of naloxone, a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdoes, to revive Dillehunt.
He was arrested and charged after the investigation was concluded.
Dillehunt pleaded guilty to the charges on Aug. 29 of this year.
Assistant State’s Attorney Carolynn Grammas prosecuted the case.