Case still pending in veterinarian's death

By Lynn R. Parks

More than two years after Laurel veterinarian Sarah Dykstra was killed while out jogging, the case against the man who was charged in her death is still pending. Bradley Cordrey, a policeman with the town of Georgetown, is one of 14 people whose cases have been stayed while the constitutionality of the statute under which they were charged is decided. Cordrey, who was off-duty at the time, is accused of veering off the road and striking Dykstra, killing her. According to state police, he was driving his sport utility vehicle on Delaware 20 west of Seaford when he ran off the road and hit Dykstra, who was jogging near her home. The accident happened Aug. 13 and on Aug. 23, Cordrey was charged under a five-year-old Delaware law with operation of a motor vehicle causing death of another person. The charge is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,150 and up to 30 months in prison. Cordrey was not charged with the more severe vehicular homicide. That charge is levied when the driver is reckless or exhibits intentionally bad conduct, said Eric Mooney, a Georgetown attorney representing Cordrey. Mooney was one of two Delaware lawyers who filed a suit with the state's Superior Court, saying that the death by motor vehicle statute is unconstitutional. He challenged the law in Sussex and Greg Morris, a Dover attorney, challenged it in Kent County.

Judge T. Henley Graves in Sussex County ruled against Mooney, saying that the law is constitutional. But Judge Robert B. Young in Kent County disagreed, ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Those conflicting rulings meant that the law had to be reviewed by the state Supreme Court. That review is still pending and all cases that were based on the death by motor vehicle statute are stayed until the Supreme Court makes its decision. Mooney offers three arguments for why the death by motor vehicle law is unconstitutional. First, he said, it does not take into account the mental state of the driver – whether or not he was driving recklessly – or the degree of seriousness of the traffic violation. "It could be something as minor as a burned-out traffic signal," he said. The charge, a misdemeanor, carries with it a possible 30-month prison stay, a punishment that is normally reserved for a felony-level offense, he said. And finally, the law does not provide for the conduct of the person who is killed, who might have done something to contribute to the accident. Mooney said that if the Supreme Court finds that the law is unconstitutional, the charge now pending against Cordrey will be dismissed. The state could move forward with other traffic violations against Cordrey, he said. A spokeswoman for the Delaware Supreme Court could not say when a decision will be made in this case.

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