The driver of the pickup truck in which a 16-year-old Sperryville youth was killed last October was acquitted Tuesday of a drunk driving charge but found guilty of five other alcohol- and traffic-related charges.
Rappahannock Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge J. Gregory Ashwell also sentenced Charles Climo of Sperryville to six months in jail for his part in the early morning crash on Whorton Hollow Road near Castleton last Oct. 4 that killed Logan McKiernan, a junior and member of the football and wrestling teams at Rappahannock High School.
Because the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the accident, Ashwell said, state law prevented the court from imposing a more severe sentence on the now-18-year-old Climo.
After a trial in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations division of Rappahannock’s Combined District Court last week, Climo was found guilty of operating a vehicle after illegally consuming alcohol (illegally because he was underage), for which Ashwell sentenced him to the maximum 12 months in jail, suspending six months, and imposed a $500 fine and a one-year driver’s license suspension.
For reckless driving, Climo received a second 12-month sentence, six months of which was also suspended, and another one-year license suspension. For underage possession of alcohol and two other age-related curfew and passenger violations, another $400 in fines and six months’ driver’s license suspension were imposed by Ashwell.
Before imposing the sentences, Ashwell said the court “is hamstrung by the law,” referring to a section of the Virginia state code that prevents an adult convicted of a crime committed as a juvenile from being sentenced to more than 12 months in jail.
“Some of the young people in this courtroom may have received driver’s licenses in this county and heard outlined this very scenario as everyone’s worst nightmare [resulting from] drinking and driving,” Ashwell said, referring to the cautionary counseling routinely offered to new drivers in Rappahannock by the courts and Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter G. Luke. “And this incident is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
McKiernan’s parents, Kimberly and Michael McKiernan, sat silently in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, and afterward declined to comment.
Climo’s jail terms will be served concurrently rather than consecutively, Ashwell said, because of the same sentencing restriction.
“I think the fact that the sentences can’t be consecutive is wrong,” said Jesse Ramirez, a RCHS senior-to-be who stood outside the courthouse after the verdicts and sentencing, talking quietly with other friends of McKiernan. “He [Climo] needed to pay a bigger price for what he did.”
While arguing for bail, which Ashwell set at $2,500 and was posted yesterday, Fairfax-based defense attorney Robert F. Horan III told Judge Ashwell that “my client has not consumed alcohol” since the accident last fall, in which the Ford pickup Climo was driving swerved off the road and struck a tree at about 3 a.m.
The McKiernans glanced at each other and shook their heads. Several other family and friends seated nearby had similar wordless reactions to Horan’s comment, to which he added, “I believe my client has learned something.”
“Kim and Mike have lost Logan,” said family friend Kathy Krometis after the court session had ended. “Six months of Charlie’s life is nothing compared to a lifetime without Logan.”
In a letter submitted to Ashwell after last week’s trial to ask that the “maximum penalty” be imposed, Krometis wrote that Climo “showed no remorse for what he has done. He purchased a brand new truck and totaled it in the early morning of Sunday, Feb. 4. [Climo was cited for reckless driving in that incident, but the charges were dismissed, the accident attributed to icy road conditions.]
“I have witnessed on many occasions Mr. Climo pulling out of the high school parking lot spinning wheels with the radio blasting,” she wrote. “I have witnessed him recklessly driving on Route 211. He has done nothing to make amends with the McKiernan family or change his reckless behavior.”
The prosecution’s case against Climo — which did not include, as some had expected, a more serious manslaughter charge — included testimony from Carol O’Neal, a toxicology expert from the Virginia state forensic lab, who extrapolated from the blood alcohol level of .03 taken several hours after the accident that Climo’s blood alcohol level would have been between .08 (the legally drunk mark) and .14 at the time of the accident.
“This case was complicated by the fact that the defendant was not arrested within three hours of the accident,” said Luke. Court records showed that State Police did not interview Climo, who had been taken to Fauquier Hospital, until after 6 a.m.
Other witnesses told the court that Climo was not drinking at the time of the accident.
Had Climo been an adult at the time of the accident, Luke said, the three class 1 misdemeanors of which he was convicted would have carried a maximum sentence of 36 months.
After posting bail yesterday, Climo signed a note of appeal. Horan said yesterday that any appeal — the signed note makes an appeal an option, though not a certainty — would most likely not include the two traffic charges but would include the others, including reckless driving. If the verdicts are appealed, the charges — except for the DUI, as Climo was acquitted of that charge — will be reheard in a new trial in Circuit Court, for which a jury can be requested.