Cries, prayer fill courtroom at sentencing for driver in fatal Md. crash

A look at Helena Buarque de Macedo's car after the crash. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorney)
A look at Helena Buarque de Macedo’s car after the crash. (Courtesy Montgomery County State’s Attorney) (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorney)
Michael and Alessandra Buarque de Macedo and their 18-year-old son Thomas were killed on impact when a speeding driver plowed into their car. (Courtesy Buarque de Macedo family)
Michael and Alessandra Buarque de Macedo and their 18-year-old son Thomas were killed on impact when a speeding driver plowed into their car. (Courtesy Buarque de Macedo family) (Courtesy Buarque de Macedo family)
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A look at Helena Buarque de Macedo's car after the crash. (Courtesy Montgomery County State's Attorney)
Michael and Alessandra Buarque de Macedo and their 18-year-old son Thomas were killed on impact when a speeding driver plowed into their car. (Courtesy Buarque de Macedo family)

ROCKVILLE, Md. — A young man who had a few speeding tickets on his record will spend the next 12 years in prison after one out of control joy ride took the lives of three people.

Emotions ran raw in the Montgomery County Circuit courtroom Friday afternoon as Judge Mary Beth McCormick sentenced 21-year-old Ogulcan Atakoglu to 30 years in prison, with all but 12 years suspended. He’ll have five years probation; three of which he can’t drive. And once he gets out, he’ll serve 150 hours of community service to impress upon teens the importance of driving safely.

Atakoglu’s feelings of invincibility, in his words, led him to drive so recklessly that prosecutors say he slammed into Helena Buarque de Macedo’s family car like a bullet. He was traveling down River Road at 115 mph in a 45 mph zone, braking only 2.5 seconds before impact, according to court documents.

WTOP reporter Dave Dildine stopped at the scene of the crash the evening on Feb. 27 within minutes of the impact and recalls witnesses moaning and screaming with grief, seeing the state of the mangled car. He said it was immediately clear from their reactions this story would end as tragically as it did.

Michael and Alessandra Buarque de Macedo, both 52, and their 18-year-old son Thomas, known as Tommy, were killed. Only 15-year-old Helena survived, waking from her serious injuries to find she was orphaned and without her only sibling.

The family was heading to Helena’s school, Walt Whitman High School, to see the play “Noises Off.” Atakoglu hit the car as they were turning onto Pyle Road. Dozens of parents and teens headed to the play saw it happen.

It’s a moment Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said he has no doubt Atakoglu has played back in his mind dozens of times.

“I don’t doubt that this young man, if he could take it back, would want to take it back. But the reality is, there are three people who are dead in this community, a young woman who’s gonna live as an orphan the rest of her life,” he said after the sentencing.

He considered the sentence fair, but remarked it was a significant sentence for a man of Atakoglu’s age.

“This case is a horrible tragedy for everyone. From the very beginning, my client had accepted his responsibility legally, morally, ethically. This was not a tragedy that was intended,” said David Felsen, who defended Atakoglu in court.

In the courtroom, the Bullis School graduate struggled to get through his statement of remorse, overwhelmed with emotion. He offered what Felsen described as a prayer for the Buarque de Macedo family.

“There was a lot of crying a lot of hand-holding, I think the last thing I heard was his mother scream as he was being taken away that she loved him,” Felsen said.

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