Potomac man pleads guilty to charges in fatal River Road wreck

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A 20-year-old Potomac, Maryland, man pleaded guilty on Monday to vehicular manslaughter charges for a February car crash that killed three members of a local family headed to see a school play.

Ogulcan Atakoglu broke down into violent sobs as a judge ordered him held until his sentencing in November.

Atakoglu had just entered a guilty plea to three counts of vehicular manslaughter as part of a plea agreement for the crash on River Road that took the lives of 52-year old Michael Buarque de Macedo, 53-year-old Alessandra Buarque de Macedo and their son, 18-year-old Thomas Buarque de Macedo. Only one family member survived the wreck, Helena, now 16 years old.

Atakoglu could face up to 30 years in prison. However sentencing guidelines call for between three months and four years in prison on each count.

The family was in a Chevy Volt that had stopped to turn off River Road at Braeburn Parkway the night of Feb. 27 when police say Atakoglu, who was driving a BMW M235i, slammed into their car at 75 mph.

Police documents indicate that Atakoglu was traveling 115 mph just seconds before he hit the de Macedos’ car. The posted speed limit in the area is 45 mph.

The deadly crash devastated the Walt Whitman High School community, where Thomas and his sister attended school. The family was on their way to see a play at the high school near the crash site that night. Thomas would have graduated from Whitman this spring. Instead, his sister Helena accepted the diploma in his place on graduation day.

Atakoglu’s attorney David Felsen said his client has accepted his responsibility for the crash, and that the Atakoglu family has been hit hard by the tragedy as well. Felsen said he’s spent a lot of time “sitting around the dining room table. And there’s been a lot of crying-crying for the victim’s family.”

There were a number of factors leading up to the crash, not just Atakoglu’s speeding, Felsen said. One of those factors concern “how the other vehicle was being driven,” he said.

Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, responded that the family thought they had enough time to make the turn. “Had (Atakoglu) been going 45 miles an hour, they would have.”

The intersection where the crash happened, at River Road and Braeburn Parkway, has long been the subject of complaints from area residents who say some sort of traffic control device should be installed there.

Maryland court records indicate Atakoglu has traffic violations in the past, including a plea to negligent driving, speeding and making an unsafe lane change in 2013.

Investigative documents from police state that “based upon all of the available evidence … Atakoglu was at fault in this collision.”

Sentencing has been set for Nov. 7 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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