A former Delaware Department of Transportation employee who molested a mentally challenged woman on his minibus in an Elkton-area neighborhood last summer received a 10-year prison term on Wednesday.
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Keith A. Baynes imposed the maximum sentence on Ronald Elam, 51, of Newark, who had pleaded guilty to third-degree sex offense in December as part of a plea deal.
Baynes ordered Elam to register as a convicted sex offender for the rest of his life, submit his DNA sample to authorities, and refrain from having contact with the victim and her relatives.
From the bench, Baynes told Elam that he had breached the trust of the victim, whom authorities identified only as a 22-year-old Newark woman with mental deficiencies. Elam also breached the trust of her family, Baynes added.
Baynes noted that the woman has Down syndrome and an IQ of 64. An IQ of 100 is generally considered average.
Baynes also said he was troubled that Elam continues to deny that he sexually assaulted the woman, despite his guilty plea and despite bus surveillance videos that clearly show him molesting her.
"There is a lack of remorse," Baynes said. "I want to send a message out that we will not tolerate this kind of offense in Cecil County. I also want to protect the community."
The maximum 10-year sentence matched a recommendation made by Assistant State's Attorney Kevin B. Urick.
Elam's lawyer, William F. Riddle of Elkton, asked for a term within state sentencing guidelines, which called for six months to five years of active incarceration.
Specifically, he asked for a 10-year sentence with all but time served - about seven months - suspended.
Riddle suggested Elam be placed on a maximum five years of supervised probation, which would include psychological therapy and the court-ordered sex offender registration.
A "long-term period of probation," with therapy and "all the bells and whistles" would benefit Elam while protecting society, Riddle said.
"He's had his punishment," Riddle said, referring to the time Elam had served in the Cecil County Detention Center in lieu of bond since his July arrest. "Now he needs to work on rehab."
Shackled, handcuffed and clad in green county jail garb, Elam briefly addressed Baynes before sentencing.
"I believe in paying my debt to society. Everyone is entitled to one mistake. We're all children of the Lord. I apologize for my mistake. I ask for mercy," Elam said.
According to court records, Elam detoured from his assigned DART ParaTransit route on July 7 and drove to Ballantrae Drive in The Highlands, where he sexually assaulted the woman, his sole remaining passenger
Because of her Down syndrome, the woman has the mental capacity of a "5- or 6-year-old child," Urick said during the December plea hearing.
Court records and prosecutors provide the following account:
Police in Delaware launched an investigation after Elam dropped off the woman at her maternal grandparents' home, where she lives, later than the usual time.
Concerned by the tardiness, they, in turn, contacted DART officials.
Detective Angel Valle of the Cecil County Sheriff's Office handled the actual sex offense investigation.
A GPS indicated that the bus went off the normal route and later stopped on Ballantrae Drive in The Highlands, a community in the easternmost part of Cecil County, less than a mile from the Delaware line.
Surveillance cameras mounted on the inside and the outside the bus captured Elam's crime.
The tape also showed Elam quickly moving back to the bus driver's seat and driving away from the neighborhood toward Delaware, after a truck drove by.
Investigators arrested Elam on July 27, the day a Cecil County grand jury handed up a five-count indictment against him.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped the remaining four charges, including second-degree rape and abuse of a vulnerable adult.
In a written statement issued after Elam's arrest, DelDOT reported that Elam - an employee with that agency for four years - had been fired after a brief suspension.
Delaware Transit Corporation's Paratransit provides transportation on request for those with qualified disabilities throughout Delaware, according to the agency. The service operates 224 ParaTransit vehicles and employs about 230 drivers.