Fairfax woman gets 6-month term for trail hit-and-run

Mehak Chopra had drunk more than a half bottle of wine before mistakenly guiding her sedan onto one of the area’s most popular recreation trails and driving down the path at
40 mph last June, a Fairfax County prosecutor said.

Several pedestrians leapt off the Washington & Old Dominion Trail to avoid being struck, but Joseph Suriol, 65, never saw the car coming, and it plowed into him as he biked near Vienna. Chopra kept going.

By the time police caught up with her, she was driving on a rim that was sparking and could not stand when asked to perform a field sobriety test, the prosecutor said. A breath alcohol test registered nearly two and a half times the legal limit.

On Tuesday, Chopra, 29, of McLean, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and hit-and-run charges for the bizarre incident after reaching a deal with Fairfax County prosecutors to avoid a more serious felony charge. She was sentenced to nearly six months in jail.

Suriol, of Vienna, said he had hoped for more. The crash left him with a broken arm, a head wound, a dislocated shoulder and a blood clot in one leg. A purple scar snakes down one side of his face.

“I am disappointed she committed a felony, but ended up charged with a misdemeanor,” Suriol said after the hearing.

Chopra did not address the case in Fairfax County Circuit Court, but her attorney, Rodney G. Leffler, said after the hearing that she had no memory of the incident. He said she may have been suffering a “hangover” from an epilepsy seizure that left her impaired.

Chopra is an engineer from McLean with no previous criminal record.

“She’s a fine, decent professional woman who had a medical condition,” Leffler said. “She feels horrible about what happened.”

Fairfax County prosecutors said the incident began on the afternoon of June 1. Chopra and a friend attended an event in the District where Chopra reportedly drank about a half bottle of wine. Afterwards, two more bottles of wine were purchased and Chopra consumed more.

Chopra left for home and her car was spotted driving on the W&OD Trail about 45 minutes later, heading west toward Vienna. Authorities believe she may have gotten on the trail near Hunter Mill Road near Reston, but the exact location is unknown.

It is also unclear why she turned onto the trail. Authorities said signs and flexible posts mark it as a recreational trail. The portion Chopra was driving on is about 10 feet wide. She may have traveled miles down the trail.

After nearly striking pedestrians, Chopra drove up behind Suriol, who was heading in the same direction, and struck him. Suriol said he remembers little of the incident, except waking up in a hospital bed afterwards.

A Vienna police officer pulled Chopra over on Route 123 a short time after the hit-and-run incident, the prosecutor said. The officer said Chopra had difficulty putting the car in park and opening the door.

When Chopra did get out, she kept falling over during the field sobriety test and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.192 percent during a preliminary breath test.

A Vienna police spokesman said at the time she stated she had come from Mexico.

Suriol has undergone several surgeries and physical therapy. He has had to switch from using his right hand to relying on his left.

He said he is too frightened to enjoy getting out on the trail again.

“I’m very afraid to get on a bike,” Suriol said.

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