A Hagerstown man was sentenced Thursday in Berkeley County Circuit Court to at least one year in prison after he pleaded guilty to fleeing the scene of a fatal motorcycle crash in April 2011.
Steven Edward Thompson, 47, was fined $500 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder and ordered to report to Eastern Regional Jail by 5 p.m. Friday to begin serving the sentence, which requires him to spend not less than one year nor more than five years in prison.
Yoder denied the defendant’s plea for home confinement Thursday after Thompson pleaded guilty to one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence resulting in the April 12, 2011, death of Lorena Beth “Lori” Roberts of Bunker Hill, W.Va.
A 12-month jail sentence for the DUI-related conviction will be served concurrently with the sentence that Yoder ordered for the felony conviction as part of what was a partially-binding agreement.
A misdemeanor count of leaving the scene of an accident involving an unattended vehicle was dismissed.
Roberts, 43, died at the scene of the crash in the 6500 block of Winchester Avenue (U.S. 11). Thompson’s blood-alcohol content after the accident was 0.137, Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timothy D. Helman said after Thursday’s plea and sentencing hearing.
Thompson was indicted in February 2012 on one felony count of driving under the influence resulting in death, but was allowed to plead to the lesser offense as part of the plea agreement.
After sentencing Thompson, Yoder said he didn’t see how Thompson’s decision to leave the scene of the fatal crash was “justifiable in any circumstances.”
Yoder said he was sympathetic to Thompson’s honorable background of 22 years of military service, including time as a recruiter in Martinsburg and his lack of any prior criminal history, but concluded that was not enough to justify home confinement.
“Somebody has died here,” Yoder said after hearing testimony from Thompson’s ex-wife, mother and older brother about the defendant’s character and emotional statements from Roberts’ mother and father.
Roberts was riding on the motorcycle that Thompson was driving south on Winchester Avenue when the bike struck a utility pole and the rear of a Ford F-150 pickup truck about 11 p.m., in the small community of Darkesville near Inwood, W.Va., police said.
Thompson told police he had just picked up Roberts from another bar. Thompson admitted in court Thursday he had been drinking beer at the bar, but did not believe he was intoxicated when he left.
Thompson admitted Thursday to leaving the crash site, but indicated in court he didn’t believe Roberts was dead.
In a statement to the court, Roberts’ father told Yoder that Thompson needs to be shown he can’t do what he did and get away with it.
Her father also questioned how Thompson could have left her at the crash scene given the defendant’s many years of military service.
“I’m an ex-Marine ... we say we never leave no one behind,” the victim’s father said.
Roberts’ father said Thompson should have stayed with his daughter and faced the debt of what he did.
In tearful remarks to the victim’s family, Thompson said he was truly sorry and that he isn’t quite sure why he left the accident scene.
“I just think it was a reactionary thing,” Thompson said.
Thompson, upon entering his plea, told the judge that he attempted suicide after the crash occurred, and later told Roberts’ family that he would have switched places with the victim “in a heartbeat” if he could.
Roberts’ mother told the court that her daughter, who was a single mom, left behind a son with special needs.
“I just want you to know when you took her life, you took mine,” said Roberts’ mother, who sobbed as she made her way back to her seat in the courtroom gallery.
In arguing that a prison sentence be imposed, Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timothy D. Helman said the court had already shown Thompson mercy in accepting the plea agreement.
“There’s a price that must be paid,” Helman said.
In order to have obtained a felony DUI resulting in death conviction, which comes with a two to 10-year prison sentence, the state would have had to prove Thompson was racing the motorcycle, weaving in and out of traffic or some other evidence of “reckless disregard” as defined in state code, Helman said after the hearing.
Helman said he believes the mere fact of driving while drunk is evidence of reckless disregard and hopes state legislators change the law and eliminate the misdemeanor charge of DUI with death.
A West Virginia State Police trooper testified in Berkeley County Magistrate Court preliminary hearing for the case that the motorcycle was traveling about 48 mph.
Yoder did not order restitution in the case after Thompson’s attorneys told the court that their client had been recently served with a civil suit. Filed Feb. 28, the lawsuit makes wrongful death and negligence claims and seeks punitive damages, according to court documents.