Thursday, February 21, 2013

Passenger who caused crash in Bedford County now faces DUI, other charges

Prosecutors said horseplay, not malice, led to the single-car crash last month.

In a rare but not unheard of turn of events, a passenger in a single-car wreck in Bedford County has been charged with driving under the influence in the crash.

Brandi Snow Williams, 23, and four others were hospitalized last month after their 1997 Saturn sedan ran off Virginia 24 and overturned just west of Aftons Meadow Road, state police said.

Williams, who was riding in the back seat, was charged with misdemeanor DUI and reckless driving after a front-seat passenger accused her of grabbing the steering wheel and causing the vehicle to veer off the road, according to a search warrant filed Jan. 30 in Roanoke Circuit Court.

"It's certainly unique. We don't get these cases very often," assistant county prosecutor John Wheelock said. "But the courts have ruled on these issues. If you're intoxicated and you take control of the wheel, you're going to be prosecuted for DUI."

DUI convictions against Virginia passengers who have interfered with a driver while impaired go back at least a decade.

The Court of Appeals of Virginia in 2003 upheld a guilty verdict against John Terry Dugger. He had been charged with drunk driving two years earlier in Petersburg after prosecutors said he grabbed the wheel of a relative's car while drunk and caused the vehicle to crash.

In March, the state appeals court also determined that John Paul Enriquez, an Alexandria man who was found sleeping in a parked car with the key in the ignition, was guilty of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

A front seat passenger in the Bedford wreck, Brandy Leigh Davis, told police that just before the wreck Williams made several attempts to take the steering wheel before finally grabbing it - "which, according to Ms. Davis, was the action directly causing the traffic crash," the search warrant said.

The warrant described Davis' account of the incident as "credible and reliable, based on statements taken from other witnesses."

It said all five occupants were taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where a state police investigator heard Williams "shouting and screaming at hospital staff using abusive language and profanity."

"Ms. Williams acknowledged her intoxication," the warrant continued. "However she stated that it did not matter as she was a passenger."

Wheelock said Tuesday that the results of Williams' toxicology report were still being determined.

Trooper D.P. House, who investigated, said the crash appeared to have been caused more by horseplay than malice, but said one of the passengers in the Saturn had suffered injuries he described as life-threatening.

"She was considered a trauma patient," but has since improved, he added. "She still has a long recovery ahead of her."

He did not identify that victim Tuesday but said it was not Williams or Davis.

Williams, of Roanoke, is also charged in Bedford County with operating a vehicle on a suspended license. Her license was suspended in Roanoke County General District Court after she was found guilty of a first DUI offense in November 2011. In that case, she served 10 days in jail, was fined $611 and sentenced to 12 months of unsupervised probation, online court records showed.

Williams was issued a restricted license to attend alcohol safety classes and to transport a child, but records show she is due to appear later this month in Roanoke County on charges of not complying with those mandatory programs.

Her next court date on the Bedford County charges is March 4.

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