Man sentenced for role in fatal county accident
WINCHESTER — A Hudson, S.D., man will serve four months in jail for causing a wreck on Interstate 81 last October that killed two people.
Lance Anderson, 44, appeared Tuesday in Frederick County General District Court with attorney Travis J. Tisinger and pleaded no contest to reckless driving, operating a vehicle with improper brakes and texting while driving.
Anderson was driving a 2007 Peterbilt tractor-trailer on I-81 near the Kernstown Commons shopping complex on Oct. 5 when he triggered a three-vehicle wreck that killed Heather Lee Santor, 39, and Acoye Marcouis Breckenridge, 18, both of Staunton, according to Virginia State Police.
Santor and Breckenridge, who were traveling in a 1998 Jeep that was stopped for traffic in a highway construction zone, died at the scene from injuries sustained in the crash when the Jeep caught fire.
A 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser was also struck in the chain reaction, but the occupants escaped injury.
After hearing evidence in the case, Judge David S. Whitacre fined Anderson the maximum $20 for the texting while driving charge. He sentenced him to 120 days in jail on the reckless driving charge, ordering him to pay a $2,500 fine and serve one year of unsupervised probation.
Whitacre said he was concerned about Anderson’s driving habits and the fact that his truck’s anti-lock braking system light was on at the time of the crash, indicating that the brakes needed to be examined.
“It’s obvious the people in the Jeep were a sitting duck,” Whitacre said.
Trooper B.G. Davis testified at Monday’s hearing that Anderson told him he was reaching for something in the passenger seat and that when he looked up traffic was already stopped.
Anderson allegedly told the trooper that he tried to brake, but it was too late.
As the Jeep and PT Cruiser waited in traffic, the tractor-trailer rammed into the back of the Jeep, causing it to rear-end the PT Cruiser.
The Jeep caught fire, and one of the people from the PT Cruiser was able to pull a front-seat passenger — 18-year-old Zackary Santor, Heather’s son — to safety before the vehicle became engulfed.
Davis testified that Zackary Santor told him his mother reached over and undid his seat belt before he was pulled from the vehicle.
Santor was taken to Winchester Medical Center with lacerations and burns to the back of his head and neck, Davis testified.
He said Anderson’s phone was seized after the wreck and that there was evidence of cellular texting near the time of the crash.
But, he said, the exact time of the crash and the texting would be difficult to determine.
During closing statements, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis J. McLoughlin said the crash was devastating and resulted “in a young man essentially watching his mother burn alive.”
He also pointed out, but did not specify, a number of driving offenses on Anderson’s driving record and asked that Whitacre sentence him to the maximum one year in jail.
Tisinger said that if his client could make a statement, he would express remorse and say how sorry he was, but that because of pending civil litigation he advised him not to speak.
“We’re not asking the court to go light on him,” Tisinger assured.
Tisinger asked that Anderson be sentenced to 60 days in jail.
After the sentencing, the family of Santor could be heard crying loudly as they walked outside the courtroom.
While in the hallway, they questioned Davis about how Anderson could cause two people’s deaths and be sentenced to only four months in jail.
McLoughlin later said that Anderson would not be charged criminally with anything else.
“We wouldn’t have been able to support a felony charge with the facts,” he said, adding that the best evidence would have been that Anderson was texting several minutes before the crash.
McLoughlin said to support a manslaughter charge, they would have to prove conduct so “gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.”
Notwithstanding the “horrific” outcome, McLoughlin said the evidence would not be able to show that.
— Contact Melissa Boughton at email@example.com