A 70-year-old grandmother from Gainesville was sentenced Monday to 200 hours of community service for causing a crash that killed a Prince William County police officer.
Margaret A. Luecke was driving a 2001 Dodge Caravan to a nail appointment with her daughter about 2 p.m. on Dec. 31 when she pulled in front of a police officer riding a motorcycle. Officer Chris Yung, 35, collided with Luecke’s minivan, and his motorcycle caught fire. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital.
Yung, who was traveling about 75 mph in response to an emergency call, had his siren on and lights flashing, according to court testimony. Yung also had a green light on a clear day, police said.
Authorities have said Luecke was driving south on Nokesville Road at Piper Lane and took a left turn into a shopping center, crossing the officer’s path.
Luecke (pronounced Lick-ie) has no criminal history and had gone 35 years without a driving infraction. She pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of reckless driving, which means she did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her if the case had gone to trial.
During the hearing, Luecke kept her head bowed and wept at times. In a brief interview afterward, she said she has been “grieving” for Yung’s family since the crash. “I can barely talk,” she said through tears.
As part of the plea deal, Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) said that prosecutors recommended that Luecke serve her community service by speaking about her experience to teens receiving a driver’s license. Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter also imposed a one-year suspended jail sentence and fined Luecke $2,500. She will serve a year of probation as well.
Potter ordered that Luecke’s license be suspended for six months, but she will be allowed to drive to and from community service, her daughter’s cancer-related treatments and her Catholic church.
Luecke knows well “the effects that can happen to your life when you make a simple, tragic mistake,” Potter said.
Luecke did not hear Yung’s siren or see his motorcycle, according to prosecutors and her defense attorney. At a news conference after the hearing, Ebert said that he believes her but that others nearby at the time noticed the officer and heard the siren.
“She should have seen what other people saw,” he said.
Ebert said that he remembered meeting Yung around the courthouse: “He was a good man, well respected and he loved his work. It’s extremely tragic for everybody involved.”
Luecke’s attorney, Phillip Gross, told the court that his client, whom he called Maggie, volunteers to help military families, including those who have lost family members. Her husband is a former Naval officer, he said, and Luecke has received a distinguished public service award from the U.S. Navy.
“This thing has ripped her up more than anything that you can imagine,” Gross said.
Yung, a Marine who had served in Iraq, was a well-known officer who had been with the Prince William police for seven years. His death was the third line-of-duty death in the county since 1970.
At a packed memorial service in January, Yung’s fellow officers remembered his infectious smile and his love of the police brotherhood. He was known for exemplary professionalism and exuding “calm,” then-acting police chief Barry Barnard had said.
Yung, friends have said, understood that he wasn’t just there to catch the bad guy, but rather that he was often dealing with good people on their worst day.
Edward Yung, 60, Yung’s father, said at a news conference that the family thought the plea agreement was fair.
Survivors include Chris Yung’s wife, Robin; his two sons, age 12 and 10; and a daughter, 7, Edward Yung said.
Edward Yung said he and his wife, Jennifer, remember being overwhelmed with relief when their son returned unharmed from a tour in Iraq with the Marines. Now they place flowers each week at the place where their son crashed.
“We figured since he came back from Iraq and survived, he’d be golden,” he said. He said the family deals with the tragedy day by day and hour by hour.
“We see him through his children,” he said. “It’s really tough.”