High-speed chase leads to a 21-month sentence

A high-speed chase, stolen weapons, rape and assault on a VDOT worker – last Thursday (June 7) was an eye-opening day in Rappahannock County Circuit Court. The crime wave that former Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter Luke described in December, weeks before passing the torch to Art Goff, continues.

Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey W. Parker on Thursday (June 7) sentenced Sandra Anne Knott, 47, of Front Royal to serve a year and nine months of active prison time for charges of eluding police and writing bad checks. The woman was sentenced to a total of four years for writing four bad check charges (with all but one year suspended) and owes $966 to Hillsdale Country Store, and was sentenced to two years for the eluding police charge (with all but nine months suspended), the result of leading a state trooper on a high-speed chase last July.

When the five-foot-tall woman stood to face Parker, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff told Parker that, before handing down a sentence, he should watch the seven-minute chase footage recorded by Virginia State Police Trooper Brandon Johnson.

Johnson was working radar duty July 28 on U.S. 211 two miles north of Ben Venue Road when he clocked a 2005 Pontiac Vibe travelling at 71 mph in the 55 zone, according to the complaint filed by the trooper. After making the stop, and as Johnson began to exit his cruiser, the Pontiac took off down westbound 211, reaching speeds of 70 to 80 mph before powersliding onto Route 729 (Ben Venue Road) north. Johnson pursued, and the footage showed several near-accidents on the winding back road at harrowingly high speeds. On multiple occasions, Johnson’s vehicle seemed to go airborne, as the suspect vehicle distanced itself from the cruiser.

Knott hung her head as the sirens sounded while Parker watched the video; the rest of the court could only hear the audio portion. “This is Ben Venue Road?” Parker asked Johnson, the two men gazing intently at the laptop screen.

The Pontiac eventually sideswiped an oncoming vehicle and spun out. After giving a false name to police, the driver was flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital, Johnson reported. Knott was charged in August with reckless driving, felony eluding police, obstruction of justice, driving without a license and writing four bad check charges totalling more than $200 to Hillsdale between Jan. 19 and Jan. 24.

“Obviously your honor, this video indicates a serious safety concern,” Goff said. “This is the kind of decision-making that gets people killed.” Goff recommended going above the sentencing guidelines in the plea agreement “based on the egregious nature of the offense.” He also said that the sentencing guidelines were “woefully inadequate” in this case.

Knott’s attorney, Kevin Gerrity, said that as a result of the accident, his client was seriously injured and had to recover in jail. “This was not a premeditated act. It was a panic decision, one that wasn’t a smart decision.” He said that over the course of the five-minute chase, Knott’s panic continued to build.

“I’m sorry. I was scared,” Knott said, choking the words out through tears.

Before sentencing Knott, Parker said: “You have a hideous record, Ms. Knott, concerned with bad-check history. It just goes on and on and on. I guess I can understand that you were scared of what would happen to you if you were found to be driving without a license, which is actually a bigger offense than the bad checks . . . My heart was in my throat while watching that video, because I’ve driven on that road before. It’s a wonder you didn’t kill somebody. You almost outran the cops, and the officer was absolutely flying.”

Parker agreed that the sentencing guidelines were inadequate in this case. He addressed the bad check charges in one group: two years for felonious bad checks, and 12 months each for two misdemeanor bad check charges (suspending all but one year, and dropping two other bad check charges). The driving charges were lumped into another group: two years on the eluding police charge, $100 fine and 12 months in jail on the speeding charge (all but one year was suspended, and a reckless driving and driving on suspended charge dropped). Goff said that Knott owes $966 to Hillsdale Country Store, and once that money has been paid, he will drop two of the check charges.

“I couldn’t think of a worse road for a car chase,” Goff said later, noting that he lives on the stretch of Route 729 known as Richmond Road, “because you can’t see around the turns, so you have no idea what’s ahead. If a car is even a foot over onto your side of the road, that could cause a severe and potentially deadly collision. That’s why I played the tape in court . . . That was one of the most dangerous things I’ve seen. That road is really bad, even if you’re driving the speed limit.”

Also in Circuit Court

Also on June 7, defense attorney Amanda Zadrozny requested that her client, 37-year-old Bascom Darnell Jr. of Jeffersonton, who is facing a rape charge, undergo a mental health evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial and his sanity at the time of the alleged offense in November 2010. Parker ordered the evaluation and scheduled a review date for Aug. 17. Darnell is charged with raping a woman through force or threat.

Darnell appeared in court with a shaved head, his former dreadlocks having been cut, a black goatee and a gold hoop earring in his left ear.

Zadrozny said Darnell has difficulty answering questions and seems unable to keep his mind focused enough to even understand the questions. She said Darnell was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 10 and was checked into a mental health hospital in Alexandria. Four years ago, her client was admitted into an inpatient facility at Poplar Springs, resulting from an incident where he beat himself. Zadrozny said that she is still gathering Darnell’s complete criminal and mental health history.

A trial against 47-year-old Lloyd Timothy Freeman of Front Royal is set for July 5. Freeman is charged with five counts of grand larceny and four counts of transporting or possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.

According to the indictments handed down by May’s grand jury, RCSO Deputy Lee Settle documented that Freeman stole property last November belonging to Helen and Richard Koldewey, including a diamond ring, two 12-gauge shotguns, a .410-gauge shotgun and a pump-action .22 cal. rifle. Since Freeman is a convicted felon, he was also charged with illegally possessing the firearms when he was arrested May 16. Freeman has been held without bond, is currently serving 18 months in Warren County jail for charges there, and has a felony extradition warrant pending in Texas.

Parker rejected a plea agreement made by Goff and defense attorney Bill Fletcher in a bad-check case against 38-year-old Randall Daniel Dodson of Washington. (Parker last month rejected the plea deal made by Goff and attorney Douglas Baumgardner in the case of Amy Grigsby Dodson, who embezzled funds meant for school sports boosters; a similar deal was later accepted by another circuit judge.) As part of the agreement Thursday, Goff amended the felony charge, did not ask for jail time, and did not request a presentencing report.

Dodson wrote a $320 check to his wife Stacy Dodson, which she cashed at the Laurel Mills Store in Castleton on April 6, 2010. There was only $100 in their account, which was deposited around the time the check was cashed. Goff told the court that the $320 has been returned to the Laurel Mills Store, and that all late fees and demands have been paid.

Parker reviewed the case paperwork for about five minutes, then announced that he wasn’t comfortable accepting a plea agreement without reviewing a presentencing report. Parker said the sentencing guidelines for the charge are between 11 months and two-and-a-half years, and asked why they couldn’t file a presentencing report. Goff replied that Dodson was convicted of breaking-and-entering in 1995 and served prison time in 1996.

“We only took the plea because there’d be no jail time,” Fletcher replied. “This is a stale case, a two-year-old case, and my client’s wife was willing to testify on his behalf if it had to go to trial.” Parker responded quickly, “I’m not going to negotiate this, so either accept the finding of guilt and allow a pre-sentencing report, or withdraw your plea of guilt and we’ll set a date with another judge.” Fletcher withdrew Dodson’s guilty plea; the case is scheduled to be heard again July 24.

Dodson’s wife, Stacy, 31, next stood before Parker, as her attorney announced an identical plea agreement in the bad check case. Goff reiterated that Stacy Dodson had a clean criminal record and that the $320 was returned to the store. Parker accepted Dodson’s guilty plea and sentenced the woman to two years in prison (suspended) and two years of supervised probation.

A jury trial against James Allen Jenkins of Sperryville, charged with assaulting a VDOT employee, was set for Sept. 6. A complaint filed by VDOT worker Walter Lillard Jr. on Jan. 11 alleges that Lillard went that day to meet with a citizen about a driveway issue. When he and his VDOT supervisor, Frank Coffey, arrived at Thornton Gap Church Road and Locust Lane, Jenkins was standing in the road waiting for them to pull up, Lillard wrote in the complaint, apparently upset that VDOT resurfaced his neighbor’s driveway but not his own.

“I asked Mr. Jenkins to let us get pulled over out of the roadway and we would look at both locations and talk with him about it,” Lillard wrote. “At that point, Mr. Jenkins went to step away from my vehicle, and without saying anything, he punched me in the mouth through the open window of my truck as I was sitting in the driver’s seat.”

More June 7 circuit court cases in next week’s paper.