In Circuit Court Thursday (May 21), Robert Conrad Butler was sentenced to 18 months in jail for failing to stop at a serious accident and for reckless driving. Last Oct. 11, Butler drove a pickup truck that struck a car driven by Robin Sue Burke, knocking her vehicle into the path of an oncoming car on U.S. 522 a few miles from her home in Woodville.
Burke, the wife of Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department chief Richie Burke (who was the first emergency responder to arrive at the accident scene), is still recovering from serious injuries she sustained in the crash. Police reported at the time that Butler sped north from the crash scene into Sperryville, where he was eventually apprehended.
At the sentencing hearing, Jesse Owens Clark, who was with Butler at the time of the accident, testified that both he and Butler had smoked cigarettes dipped in PCP shortly before the accident, blacked out, and didn’t realize Butler had caused an accident until later. Clark said that when he came to, he was in a parking lot in Sperryville and Butler and Butler’s vehicle were not there. Clark was subsequently charged with failure to report an accident, a felony.
Frank Reynolds, Butler’s attorney, called Robert Howard to the stand to testify in Butler’s defense. Howard, a former teacher of Butler’s and now his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor told the court that he was surprised when he heard of the accident, as Butler had been regularly attending AA and had been sober for quite a while. Howard said he had been impressed by Butler’s contrition after the accident; he said Butler admitted responsibility and felt bad for anyone who had been injured.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said the court should focus on Burke’s injuries, which were severe enough to prevent her from appearing in court. “Butler’s actions showed a callous disregard for others,” said Goff. “He should have known he hit two cars, sideswiped a mobile home and injured someone, and stopped. Instead, he drove another 12 miles.”
Goff pointed out that Butler, 40 at the time, “chose to take the PCP voluntarily and that society’s interests should override Mr. Butler’s interests.”
Before being sentenced, Butler addressed the court, saying he apologized for his actions and had intended to apologize in person to Burke and didn’t know she would not be in court.
Judge Gregory W. Parker said: “The court is concerned with the seriousness of Mr. Butler’s reckless driving,” citing that as the more egregious offense. He then sentenced Butler to three years in the penitentiary, with all but six months suspended, for the failure to stop charge. He also ordered Butler to continue with AA, suspended his license for six months, and placed him under two years of supervised probation. For the reckless driving charge, Parker sentenced Butler to 12 months in jail to run consecutively with the other sentence. Parker denied Reynolds’ request for home electronic monitoring for Butler, but did not oppose the request for work release at the discretion of the jail.
Besides testifying in Butler’s case, Clark appeared for his own sentencing. In return for pleading guilty and for helping investigators understand the sequence of events before and after the accident, Clark’s charge was amended to misdemeanor failure to report an accident. Goff said, “Clark provided information freely to the Commonwealth. His assistance was essential to understanding this accident.”
Parker sentenced Clark to six months in jail, with four months suspended, and one year of unsupervised probation.
Seung Nam Baek, 55, of Annandale, charged with forging public records after signing a false name to traffic-related summonses in March of 2014, appeared for sentencing. The Korean citizen, speaking through an interpreter, answered questions from Parker and Goff. Asking why and how long Baek has been in the country, Parker said, “I am concerned that he came here and immediately began breaking our laws. I am more inclined to be lenient if Mr. Baek has been here a while.” Baek’s court-appointed attorney explained that he first arrived in the United States in October of 2000 on a tourist visa.
Accepting Goff’s recommendations, Parker sentenced Baek to three years in jail, with two years and 10 months suspended, one year of supervised probation and three years of unsupervised probation.
Gunnar Spangler Propst of Flint Hill pleaded guilty to a probation violation. Propst testified that his work schedule is Monday through Friday and included some Saturdays, but that he had been working almost every day to help pay medical costs for a severely disabled child. He said that he had tried to get time off to meet with his probation officer, but that his employer denied him leave. In missing his appointment, Propst violated his probation.
“If you mess up probation, you have to go to jail,” Parker said. “It’s your responsibility to work it out with your employer, but I am going to give you a break.” Parker then revoked Probst’s previous suspension and re-imposed a sentence of four years and 10 months in the penitentiary, with all but one month suspended, and six months of supervised probation. Parker granted Propst’s request to serve out his sentence on weekends so he could continue to work.
Jason K. Woyciechowski of Roanoke pleaded guilty to violating his probation. Goff called Woyciechowski’s actions “another case of using drugs, including marijuana, LSD, and cocaine, and affecting another life.” Woyciechowski’s court-appointed attorney told the court that her client suffered a relapse while on probation and was still gainfully employed. Woyciechowski had been out of jail on a $5,000 bond.
Woyciechowski told the court that since moving to Roanoke his life had been better. He is now married and has a child and takes responsibility for his actions. He said he had been trying to enroll in Boxwood, a rehab center in Culpeper.
Before sentencing him, Judge Parker said, “You’ve been under court control for 10 years. Let’s see if we can end this. I hope you can get a handle on your problems.” He then sentenced Woyciechowski to three years and three months in the penitentiary, but suspended all but one year.