When 19-year-old Samuel Ian Roberts walked into an Alexandria courtroom Aug. 29, he was facing the possibility of spending 10 years in prison for driving while intoxicated and causing the death of his best friend.
At the end of a less-than-four-hour bench trial, he left, with a court order to surrender his drivers license for six months, attend an Alcohol Safety and Prevention program and pay a fine of $100.
Circuit Court Judge Lisa Kemler accepted Roberts guilty plea to consuming alcohol while under the age of 21. Then, Assistant Commonwealths Attorney Molly Sullivan presented evidence that she said would prove that Roberts not only consumed alcohol, but smoked marijuana and then drove a vehicle recklessly, resulting in an accident that left 18-year-old Gregory Berry in a coma. He died April 19.
According to court records and testimony, late Christmas night Berry called his friend Roberts and asked to meet him at another friends house on Taylor Run Parkway. The three boys built a bonfire in the back yard and drank beer. According to a toxicology report, Roberts also consumed marijuana some time that night, a fact that he denied.
Some time after 4 a.m., Roberts and Berry left their friends home and drove to the corner of Janneys Lane and King Street, where they found 200 pounds of firewood and loaded it into the trunk of Roberts 1996 Volkswagen Jetta. Roberts drove the car west on Janneys, passing Taylor Run Parkway, proceeding up a hill to Yale Drive.
Roberts lost control of the vehicle, which made a 180-degree turn, headed east on Janneys, crashing into a telephone pole at the corner of Cambridge. A nearby resident, Jillian Gonzales, heard the crash and went to investigate. She found the car wrapped around the pole with Roberts screaming for someone to help. She held his hand until the police and paramedics arrived.
Police officers testified that both Roberts and Berry were trapped in the car and paramedics had to use the jaws of life to remove them. Roberts repeatedly, according to testimony, asked that someone help his friend, who remained unresponsive. Once Roberts was removed from the vehicle, Alexandria Police officer Seth Weinstein interviewed him in the ambulance.
Weinstein testified that Roberts admitted to consuming four to five beers before the accident. At the hospital, when Weinstein interviewed Roberts again, he told Weinstein that he consumed five or six beers. That night Weinstein issued Roberts a citation for driving while intoxicated.
Charles Swedish, who represented Roberts, said, The Commonwealth has presented no evidence about Ians driving behavior. The toxicologist said that, generally, when alcohol and marijuana are present in someones system at these levels, certain behaviors might occur. He said that certain behaviors might occur but not what those behaviors were.
What occurred on Dec. 26, 2006, was truly tragic and Ian lost his best friend. But what occurred was an accident, Swedish said.
Judge Kemler agreed with Swedish. She granted his motion to strike the three remaining counts of the indictment: driving while intoxicated, involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving. She imposed the maximum allowable sentence for consuming alcohol while under the age of 21 and operating a vehicle.
Roberts graduated from T. C. Williams High School in 2006. Berry would have graduated from T.C. in 2007. At graduation this year, his classmates left an empty chair in his honor.