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Howard county police officer acquitted of assault in Pasadena crash

By TIM PRATT tpratt@capgaznews.com

An Anne Arundel County judge on Monday acquitted a Howard County police officer of assault for an accident that injured a family of four last year in Pasadena.

But Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. found found 29-year-old Symchay Bendu of Laurel guilty of negligent driving and fined him $500 for the wreck at Route 100 and Route 10 on June 8, 2013.

Harris gave Bendu probation before judgment for a minor accident he was involved in less than an hour earlier that day at Route 100 and Route 2 in Glen Burnie. He fined him $100 for the Glen Burnie accident.

Bendu was acquitted of four counts of second-degree assault and one count of reckless driving. The assault and reckless driving charges were a result of the Pasadena crash, which injured two adults and two children on their way to a softball game.

Harris said Bendu’s actions that day demonstrated negligence, but not a “wanton and willful disregard” for human life, which would have warranted an assault conviction.

“Because of a really boneheaded decision on your part, not only was that day messed up, but a lot of days since then,” Harris said. “You’re lucky nobody was killed.”

A five-year veteran of the Howard County Police Department, Bendu was on duty that day, but said he got lost and ended up heading east on Route 100 in Anne Arundel County.

He testified he tapped his brakes near Route 100 and Route 2 to warn a driver behind him that he was following too closely, but the two cars collided, sending the other car into the median.

Harris said he didn’t believe Bendu’s assertion that he tapped his brakes to warn the other driver. He said he thought Bendu, realizing he was lost, braked abruptly in an attempt to use an emergency crossing in the median.

After Anne Arundel and Howard County police responded to the scene, Bendu was cleared to return to duty. He continued east on Route 100, then attempted to make a U-turn the wrong way onto southbound Route 10, where his car was T-boned by Jaime Norfolk of Brooklyn Park.

Norfolk, her fiance and two children were injured, but Bendu wasn’t hurt.

Bendu said he has had nightmares about the accident. He apologized to Norfolk as she sat in the back of the courtroom.

“Good people that were minding their business got hurt, and I apologize for that,” Bendu said.

Norfolk, who was in tears for a portion of the hearing Monday, declined to comment after the ruling.

Gregory Der, president of the Howard County Police Officers’ Association, noted that motorists typically aren’t charged with assault after an accident when there is no ill intent and when no alcohol or drugs were involved.

 “To charge someone just because of an accident with no other circumstances is not proper,” Der said.

Bendu’s lawyer, Andrew Alperstein, said an assault conviction could have set a dangerous precedent, where all drivers involved in an accident could face assault charges. He was pleased with Harris’ decision to convict only on the negligence charge.

“It’s never a great day when there’s injured children, but this is the verdict that should have happened,” Alperstein said. “Officer Bendu should have never been charged with a criminal offense.”

It is unclear how the negligent driving conviction will affect Bendu’s employment. He has been assigned a desk job since the accident, Alperstein said. A Howard County police spokesman could not be reached late Monday afternoon.

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