Update 10 a.m., Monday – Samuel Ellis, the former quarterback for Thomas S. Wootton High School, pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the case involving a deadly crash that killed two 18-year-old recent Wootton graduates last summer just before his trial was scheduled to begin Monday.
Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said Ellis took responsibility for his role in the incident by admitting his guilt in a plea Friday morning.
"Today is not only a difficult day for the Li and Murk families, but also for the Ellis family," Korionoff said Friday during a press conference at Montgomery County Circuit Court. "There's no jumping for joy, there are no winners in this situation."
Ellis faces up to 10 years in prison for each count of vehicular manslaughter under Maryland law. He remains free on bond and will face sentencing June 3.
In court, Ellis told the judge he understood the charges, but did not comment further, according to a recording of the proceedings.
Ellis was scheduled to begin a five-day trial Monday on two counts of negligent vehicular homicide and two counts of negligent vehicular manslaughter. Korionoff said the vehicular homicide charges were dropped because prosecutors were pursuing the manslaughter charges. He added that it was not unusual for a guilty plea to be entered before the start of a trial.
"We need to move forward in the community and this young man has taken responsibility for his actions," Korionoff said.
Murk and Li were killed when the car Ellis was driving the night of June 25 left the roadway, struck multiple trees and landed on its roof in North Potomac. Ellis was seriously injured in the crash and a 17-year-old front seat passenger, who police have not named, suffered minor injuries.
Prosecutors said in court Friday that Ellis, who was 18 at the time of the collision and is now 19, registered a blood alcohol level of 0.07 to 0.09 at the time of the accident, above the 0.02 legal limit for drivers under the age of 21. They said car was traveling at a speed greater than 65 mph when it left DuFief Mill Road.
The teens had been drinking at an underage drinking party at the North Potomac home of Kenneth Saltzman prior to the collision, according to the police report, which was detailed in The Washington Post. Saltzman, who was present during the party, later paid a total of $5,000 in fines for allowing minors to drink in his home.
In a statement provided to the Post, the Murks called for a tough sentence for Ellis, to send a "crystal-clear message to society as a whole–that this behavior will not be tolderated."