Actor Phill Lewis Indicted In Md. Woman’s Car Death

Actor Phill Lewis was indicted on manslaughter and drunken-driving charges yesterday by a Montgomery County grand jury in a Dec. 28 accident that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old Chevy Chase woman.

Lewis’s attorney, Barry Helfand of Rockville, said in an interview yesterday that police have told him blood tests show that Lewis’s blood-alcohol content was nearly three times the legal level of intoxication.

In unusually frank comments for a defense attorney, Helfand called that blood-alcohol level “extraordinarily high” and suggested that whoever served Lewis drinks that night could be partly responsible for the accident.

Helfand estimated that Lewis, 23, star of the short-lived CBS television show “Teech,” would have had to consume 16 or 17 drinks to attain a blood-alcohol level of .29 percent, which is almost three times the legal intoxication level of .10 percent.

Police said a car driven by Lewis crossed the center line and collided head-on with another car about 1 a.m. on Dec. 28 on River Road in Potomac. The driver of the other car, Isabel Duarte, 21, a recent immigrant from Portugal who lived in the 2300 block of Ashboro Drive in Chevy Chase, was pronounced dead at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Lewis was indicted yesterday on misdemeanor charges of manslaughter by automobile, homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated and driving while intoxicated, said a spokesman for the office of State’s Attorney Andrew L. Sonner. Conviction of manslaughter by automobile can carry the most serious maximum penalty: 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Duarte moved to the United States about three years ago and lived with her aunt and uncle, Augusto and Maria Rodrigues, said the family’s attorney, Victor Cuco of Arlington.

Duarte worked as a nanny for several area families since her arrival. She has many relatives in the Washington area, although her parents still live in Portugal, Cuco said.

On the night of the accident, Duarte was driving home after dropping off some friends. The group had watched videos together at the home of one of the friends, Cuco said.

Cuco said Duarte’s family is considering a civil suit or negotiations with the Lewis family to seek compensation for Duarte’s death.

“An innocent life was destroyed and we have a claim to make,” Cuco said.

Lewis, who lives in California but is staying at his parents’ home in Potomac, will plead not guilty, Helfand said.

Helfand said Lewis remembers nothing about the accident or the nearly 10 hours leading up to it. Helfand said Lewis cannot remember whether he was driving the car, which is owned by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. Lewis’s father, Delano E. Lewis, is president of the company.

“If the {blood-alcohol} numbers are correct, it adds real credence to the fact that he can’t remember,” Helfand said. “Those are extraordinarily high numbers.”

Police spokesman Sgt. Harry Geehreng said police do not divulge the results of blood tests. A state’s attorney’s office spokesman also would not confirm the blood-test results.

Helfand said he has hired investigators to determine where Lewis had been the evening of the accident. So far, he said, they have been unable to trace all of Lewis’s actions in the hours leading up to the accident.

Helfand said he believes that Lewis, who weighs 140 to 150 pounds, would have been extremely impaired and unable to know when to stop drinking with such a high blood-alcohol level.

“That tells me that at some point wherever he was drinking, someone had to know he was intoxicated and that someone had to serve him an incredible amount of alcohol beyond intoxication,” Helfand said.

Helfand said a bartender may have continued serving Lewis after he was intoxicated to the point of being “helpless.” If so, Helfand said he might be able to argue that Lewis was not entirely responsible for his intoxication or his actions while intoxicated.

“I don’t know whether there’s a defense there,” Helfand said. “It may not take me out of total blame, but it might dump the blame on more than one person.”

Helfand said Lewis has recovered from cuts to the mouth suffered in the accident. He said Lewis, who also appeared in the movie “City Slickers,” would remain in the area until the matter is resolved.

“Teech,” a situation comedy starring Lewis as a black music teacher newly employed at an all-white boys’ school, first aired last Sept. 18, and was suspended a month later. A relative said Lewis had been staying with his parents since Thanksgiving and was on his way to their Potomac home from the District when the accident occurred.

A spokesman at the Lewis home yesterday said neither Phill Lewis nor the family had any comment about the indictment. But immediately after the accident, Delano Lewis issued this statement: “My family and I deeply mourn the loss of Miss Duarte, and we pray that her parents and family allow us to pay our respects and express our sincere sympathy in this their time of grief.”