A 21-year-old Potomac man was sentenced to 12 years in prison Friday for speeding on River Road at more than 100 mph and causing the February collision that killed three members of a Bethesda family.
Ogulcan Atakoglu, who had pleaded guilty in August to three counts of vehicular manslaughter in the case, was also sentenced in Montgomery County Circuit Court to five years of probation and 150 hours of community service. He will be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of the sentence.
The Feb. 27 collision killed 52-year-old Michael Buarque de Macedo, his 52-year-old wife, Alessandra, and their son, 18-year-old Thomas. All three died at the scene. Helena Buarque de Marcedo, the daughter and sister of the other victims who was 15 at the time, was seriously injured in the crash.
After the collision, hundreds attended a vigil at Walt Whitman High School where Thomas and Helena were students. The case has put Helena, now a Whitman junior, in the spotlight, according to relatives. On Friday, her uncle, Pedro Buarque de Macedo, likened her to Harry Potter, saying she has scars from the collision, but also has to deal with the day-to-day experience of everyone in the community knowing what happened to her parents and older brother.
Image left: Ogulcan Atakoglu. Right: Photos of the vehicles involved in the collision. Via Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
On Friday, Atakoglu took responsibility for his role in the collision and expressed remorse to members of the Buarque de Macedo family.
Using a line that prosecutors often employ to describe the societal effects of a crime, Atakoglu said his actions “had not caused ripples in a pond, but a true tsunami in an ocean.”
Choking back tears, Atakoglu described his actions as selfish and negligent at the time of the Saturday evening crash. He was returning to his parents’ house between Potomac and Rockville with Chinese food for his family after leaving a friend’s house. The Buarque de Macedos were reportedly on their way to a musical at Whitman.
Atakoglu crashed his father’s 2016 BMW M235 head-on at about 75 mph into the passenger side of Michael Buarque de Macedo’s 2016 Chevy Volt, which was traveling east on River Road, attempting to turn left onto Pyle Road near Whitman High School. An investigation determined Atakoglu applied the brakes about 2.5 seconds before impact, after flashing his lights at the Volt.
“I was once indeed that kid who felt invincible, never thinking my actions could result in such tragedy,” Atakoglu said. He began to hyperventilate and his attorney, David Felsen, helped console him before he added, “I promise to forever live my life in the light of those who lost theirs.”
Prior to Atakoglu’s statement, Felsen had asked Judge Mary Beth McCormick for leniency, saying his client had no prior record, cooperated with police, took responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty to the charges, preventing the Buarque de Macedo family from having to endure a trial.
Joshua Cohen, a psychologist who treated Atakoglu, said the young man suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Tulin Atakoglu, Ogulcan’s mother, described her son as a “great person” and said her family is “broke” and “shattered” from what happened.
However, McCormick, who described Atakoglu’s actions as “incredibly stupid.” said this wasn’t a time for leniency and also sentenced him to the five years of probation and community service to be served by telling high school students abut the dangers of reckless driving. She ordered him not to drive a vehicle for three years after his release.
Prosecutor Christina Rodriguez cited Atakoglu’s driving record multiple times while arguing for a lengthy sentence. She noted that he had been cited for speeding or improper driving in four different instances before the February collision. The first occurred Nov. 7, 2012, when he was cited for speeding and driving in a negligent manner, the second on Oct. 11, 2013, when he was cited for exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 mph, the third on Oct. 28, 2013, when he was cited for driving improperly and causing his vehicle’s wheels to spin and skid, and the fourth on Nov. 21, 2013, when he was cited for driving 15 mph over the speed limit.
Maryland sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence ranging from three months in prison to 30 years for each count of vehicular manslaughter. Rodriguez asked the judge to sentence Atakoglu to 30 years, but suspend a substantial amount of time.
McCormick took Atakoglu’s driving record into account in imposing her sentence. “When were you going to wake up?” she asked him. She said he took an “almost sociopathic” risk by driving the BMW at 115 mph on the suburban road in Bethesda where the speed limit is 45 mph and while other drivers were also using the road.
McCormick mentioned she had served nine and a half years as a traffic court judge and in that time she had never heard of a person traveling that fast in the county. She described it as “bullet speed.”
Earlier, Rodriguez had called Atakoglu a “torpedo driving down River Road waiting to kill someone.”
McCormick pointed out that although Atakoglu should have had the right-of-way as he traveled westbound on River Road, he was not the favored driver because of his excessive speed.
“And that’s the law,” McCormick said. She described his speed as “far beyond what any person would anticipate.”
The two brothers of Michael Buarque de Marcedo, Pedro and Charles, testified Friday that their brother and sister-in-law led a loving family, doted on their two children and ran a tax software company from their Bethesda home. They said Thomas, who was killed one day after his 18th birthday, was going to graduate at the top of his class and had planned to study engineering at Georgia Tech.
Pedro Buarque de Marcedo, a Washington, D.C., neurologist, said his family has taken Helena in, but she still asks “to go home”—to the time before the collision when she lived with her father, mother and brother in Bethesda.
After the sentencing hearing, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy praised county police and Rodriguez for their work in bringing what he described as a just conclusion to the case.
But he also said parents must take responsibility to reign in the dangerous actions of their children, even when they’re young adults—including taking cars or keys away from individuals who drive recklessly.
“Why was he driving?” McCarthy asked. “This was a bullet, this was a missile going down the street this particular evening.”