Mars company co-owner pleads guilty in fatal crash in Loudoun, fined $2,500

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the sentencing attached to the plea made by Jacqueline Badger Mars.

December 5, 2013

Jacqueline Badger Mars, the billionaire co-owner of the Mars candy company, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving Thursday in connection with a fatal accident in October in Loudoun County.

During a hearing in Loudoun County General District Court, Mars, 74, was given a six-month suspension on her driver’s license and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

On Oct. 4, Mars was driving a 2004 Porsche SUV on Route 50 in Aldie when her vehicle crossed the center line and hit an eastbound minivan, authorities said.

Irene C. Ellisor, 86, of Huntsville, Tex., a passenger in the minivan, died at the scene. She was not wearing a seat belt, according to the sheriff’s office.

The driver, Ashley Blakeslee, who was eight months pregnant, was seriously injured and lost her unborn son, according to Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann.


Jacqueline Mars (Getty Images)

Other passengers in the minivan were also injured. The group was in Virginia for the wedding of Blakeslee’s brother, according to Wittmann, who read a detailed statement in court that described the incident.

Wittmann said that Blakeslee’s husband, Travis Blakeslee, had been playing with the couple’s two children and other relatives outside an inn on Route 50 when they heard a loud crash. Less than 600 feet away, they found the minivan and Mars’s SUV, both heavily damaged. Ellisor, who had been “thrown violently around” the interior of the van, had died. Ashley Blakeslee, pinned behind the wheel, was unconscious and seriously injured.

Travis and Ashley Blakeslee’s third child, whom they had named Charlie, was delivered via Caesarean section at a hospital. His father and other relatives held him and said goodbye, but his mother remained unconscious.

Doctors said that Ashley Blakeslee survived because “little Charlie took the brunt of the blow in the impact,” Wittmann said.

According to authorities, Mars told a witness who went to the scene of the accident that she had fallen asleep while driving. Tests revealed no trace of drugs, alcohol or medications that could have caused a blackout, according to Wittmann. Witnesses said that Mars was not speeding or driving erratically before the accident, according to authorities.

Before Judge Deborah Welsh handed down the sentence, Wittmann read statements by those affected by the crash. The statements, including two from Ashley Blakeslee’s parents, urged the court not to seek jail time for Mars, who faced up to 12 months on the misdemeanor charge.

Sharon Acker, Ashley Blakeslee’s mother, also read a statement describing her family’s pain at “the loss of the precious grandson that I only got to hold and say goodbye to, before we had even said hello.” But she said the family had found “blessings” in the tragedy’s aftermath. Acker said she was glad that Ellisor had spent her final days happily. And although Charlie’s death was devastating, “I am thankful that, according to the doctors, he saved our daughter’s life,” she said.

Acker said that no one in the family wished for Mars to spend time in jail. “We have only forgiveness in our hearts for her,” Acker said, her voice trembling. “My husband and I would like to say thank you to Mrs. Mars for her kindness thus far and hope in time that she, too, will find peace.”

Mars also stood and read a statement before the sentencing. She said she had visited Ashley and Travis Blakeslee in Texas this week and planned to help the family. “I can’t go back in time. I can’t change what happened,” Mars said. “I will always live with the grief and loss caused by this tragedy.”

Welsh agreed to consider the requests of the accident victims and their families and said she would not impose a jail sentence. She noted that Mars had an “otherwise perfect driving record” in Virginia.

“This is an accident, unfortunate as it is,” Welsh said.

Kent Jarrell, a spokesman for the Mars family, said no civil lawsuit had been filed against Mars. “You can expect that insurance and the family will appropriately deal with that issue,” he said. “Ms. Mars has been appropriately trying to help the family through what has been a horrible ordeal.”

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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