Today was the day Elizabeth Marchman, 33, was due to deliver her third child, a daughter she had already named Emma.
But the morning of July 20, Marchman was driving west on Interstate 66 in Fairfax County with her son, Zak, 2, sitting in a rear child safety seat when she stopped for traffic backed up because of an accident. The driver of a Chevrolet pickup truck behind her did not see her stop and slammed into her Geo Metro, causing it to burst into flames.
Defendant Matthew R. Cable stands at left as his attorney, B.R. Hicks, discusses the case with Judge Robert J. Smith. Prosecutor Jason Bryk is at right. Seated at left is Randy Marchman, husband of the driver whose car was struck.
(William J. Hennessy Jr. For The Washington Post)
Even as the car burned, Marchman fought to save her son. Two retired Fairfax firefighters ran to the burning car and tried to help rescue Zak, then dragged Marchman from the fire. Zak did not survive. Marchman lost the fetus and suffered numerous injuries, including second- and third-degree burns over 30 percent of her body.
Yesterday, the driver of the pickup truck, Matthew R. Cable, 22, of Hagerstown, Md., was found guilty in Fairfax General District Court of reckless driving. Cable's driver's license was suspended for 180 days, though he will be allowed to drive to work.
His side of the story emerged for the first time yesterday in a short statement he provided to Virginia State Police after the accident, in which he was slightly injured.
Cable said that he had been driving between 55 and 60 miles per hour and that traffic was flowing without incident. "I grabbed a piece of paper off my passenger seat to look at the exit number I needed for my job site," Cable told police. "No sooner did I look away than the traffic was stopped in front of me, and I struck the car in front of me."
Cable's attorney, B.R. Hicks, said traffic stopped suddenly because of another accident in the westbound lanes of I-66 near Route 123. "He glanced down just for a second," Hicks said. "It's a tragedy; no question it's a tragedy."
Cable and Hicks negotiated a plea agreement with Fairfax Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jason Bryk on the charge of reckless driving, which is a traffic violation and less than a misdemeanor: 360 days in jail with all the time suspended, a $1,500 fine and loss of driving privileges for 90 days.
Hicks said he had not agreed to the driver's license revocation. "This young man has suffered enormously," Hicks said. "One thing that has kept him sane is his ability to go to work. Without his driver's license, he has no job." He said Cable has no criminal record and, until the accident, had a clean driving record.
Bryk noted that some defendants in similar or lesser situations receive jail time. "This was a horrible accident where someone died," Bryk said. "The commonwealth believes there should be some consequences."
Judge Robert J. Smith agreed with the prosecutor and suspended Cable's license for 180 days. But he did grant Cable a restricted license to drive to and from work.
After the hearing, Cable said, "I don't know what to say. It's just an accident." He was visibly distraught.
Bryk said the case did not qualify for a more serious charge, such as manslaughter, because it requires negligence at a criminal level. He acknowledged that Cable simply looked away briefly while driving, and "that's what people do every single day."
Marchman had moved from Washington Hospital Center to a rehabilitation center but recently was found to have a kidney infection and has returned to the hospital, her husband, Randy Marchman, said yesterday. Elizabeth Marchman also suffered numerous internal injuries and bone fractures, said Lowry J. Miller, the family's attorney.
In addition to this week's due date, Saturday would have been Zak's third birthday, his father said. "This week is a little tough," Randy Marchman said.
"When I'd show up at the hospital, my wife used to say sometimes, 'I thought you were going to bring Zak,' " Randy Marchman said. "She's come to the acceptance now."
Marchman said he had not spoken with Cable and declined to comment on the outcome of the case. Miller said the Marchmans did not oppose the plea deal.
Two blood drives have been held to help Elizabeth Marchman, and donations for the family have come from Australia, Canada and across the country. Her husband said she hopes to leave the rehabilitation center by the end of October.