James Warren Cox, the 67-year-old Tappahannock man whose out-of-control 1967 Austin Healey convertible crashed head-on into a group of motorcyclists on a sunny Sunday last fall in Sperryville, killing one and injuring several more, was found guilty Tuesday (April 16) of reckless driving in Rappahannock County General District Court.
Making his ruling after nearly three hours of testimony from state troopers and witnesses, Judge J. Gregory Ashwell sentenced Cox – who did not testify, sitting quietly and impassively in a dark suit and tie throughout the proceedings – to 12 months in jail, all but two months of it suspended, and a $1,000 fine.
Cox’s attorney, Douglas Baumgardner, filed an appeal of the decision later Tuesday afternoon.
In an attempt to prove that Cox was speeding, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff marshalled testimony from Virginia State Police investigators and witnesses, including five motorcycle-club associates of 42-year-old Theodore Randolph “Randy” Dorsey of Charlestown, W.Va., who died in the 1:30 p.m. crash last Nov. 11 on U.S. 211, after Cox’s westbound car swerved into the eastbound lane on the sharp curve just west of the Sperryville Emporium complex.
Several of the bikers testified that they heard an engine revving before the out-of-control car appeared before them on the blind curve. Both James Cox, in his statements to trooper Paul Domingoes, and his wife, Linda Cox, in testimony Tuesday, maintained they were not speeding – the posted speed limit is 45 mph on that stretch of 211, reduced to 30 on that particular curve – and did not know what caused the car to swerve out of control.
Eric Nied, the first rider in the pack, testified that he watched the car fishtail around the bend, its rear half in the bikers’ lane, before the driver overcorrected and the car swung back around, striking several of the bikers with the right front quarter panel. Nied said he barely managed to avoid the car, and watched in his rearview mirror as the sports car collided with several of his fellow riders – sending one of them, rider Curtis Nobles, “flying over the windshield.”
Nobles, who suffered serious injuries to his right leg that required eight surgeries and five months in the hospital, said he hit the windshield and right front portion of the car and landed 40 feet away, with the impact actually knocking him out of his riding boots.
Nobles, of Hedgesville, W.Va., said after the hearing – and several fellow riders agreed – that he thought the sentence was “somewhat fair. But I am disappointed in the gentleman that hit me, and in the fact that he got such a light charge for killing someone. And the fact that he’s arguing the case, that he’s appealing it, that really . . . hurts me.
“I laid on that road for what seemed like an hour waiting for the police and ambulances to arrive,” Nobles said. “And not once did he come over to me to see if I was all right. He never even left the driver’s seat.”
All the riders testified that they heard the car’s engine revving, as well as squealing tires. Several riders, including Nied, positively identified Cox as the driver; Nied said he clearly observed Cox’s smiling face as he swerved out of the car’s path.
State troopers Domingoes, Mitchell Martin and Donald Corbin responded, with Corbin serving as lead investigator. Domingoes testified that Cox was the one who placed the initial 911 call and was visibly upset at the scene, even breaking down on several occasions.
Domingoes took a verbal statement from Cox at the scene and a written one at Fauquier Hospital. He quoted Cox, who has owned the car since 1978, as saying he had “no idea” what had caused the accident, insisting that he wasn’t speeding and was very careful to properly maintain the car.
Corbin testified that he examined the scene and determined that there were no obstructions in the road that could have caused Cox to lose control of the car.
Stuart Robeson, a friend of Cox who transported the family home after they were released from the hospital, said he drove to Rappahannock County three days after the accident, at Cox’s request, to retrieve some personal property from the car. Robeson said he had questions about Cox’s account of the accident and brought a tire pressure gauge with him to the scene.
After checking the three tires – which Domingoes said he did not do at the scene – Robeson said he found the pressure in the driver’s side rear tire to be so low (below 10 psi) that it wouldn’t even register on the gauge. This lack of pressure, Robeson said, would have had a considerable impact on Cox’s ability to maintain control of the car.
Goff described the evidence against Cox as “overwhelming,” and implored Judge Ashwell to find Cox guilty of failure to maintain proper control. “You don’t accelerate into a turn like that . . . you don’t fishtail at those speeds,” Goff said.
“It was an accident, but he put himself in a position to make that happen,” Goff said in his pre-sentencing statement. “This isn’t some 17-year-old kid out joyriding – this is an experienced driver who was overconfident in his abilities . . . I don’t usually ask the court to slam people, but this is a crime that calls for the maximum.”
“There is nothing that can set things right,” defense attorney Douglas Baumgardner countered. “Mr. Cox has shown substantial remorse and is a substantial contributor to society . . . nothing will be accomplished by incarcerating him for 12 months.”
“I am forever dis . . . disfigured by this accident,” said Nobles, pausing to collect himself. “I can’t run with my kids, I can’t do anything with my family . . . Not to mention the fact that I lost a best friend.”
Ashwell took several minutes deciding Cox’s sentence, ultimately deciding to suspend 10 of the 12 months because, he said, he wanted to treat the defendant the same as the many others who appear in his courtroom facing reckless driving charges incurred on that stretch of road leading into the park. His sentence elicited several groans of disapproval from the bikers gathered in the courtroom.