Man Who Hit Trooper Must Aid Safety Drive

Trooper J.T. Mahalik's cruiser was struck from behind April 30 as he sat on the shoulder of I-66 near Centreville.
Trooper J.T. Mahalik's cruiser was struck from behind April 30 as he sat on the shoulder of I-66 near Centreville. (Courtesy Of Virginia State Police)
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Centreville man who slammed into a parked Virginia State Police car on Interstate 66 in April, severely injuring a trooper, has received an unusual sentence to fit the crime: 45 days in jail and 100 hours helping state police publicize their "Move Over" campaign to remind drivers to steer away from police cars on the side of highways.

The April 30 Fairfax County incident involving Trooper J.T. Mahalik was the first in a series of crashes in which drivers hit or nearly hit state troopers stopped along major highways. No troopers were killed, but three incidents in less than two weeks prompted state police commanders to revive the Move Over program, telling drivers that state law requires them to change lanes away from a stopped emergency vehicle or slow down and pass with caution.

A violation isn't just a traffic ticket; it's a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and 12 months in jail. And local and state police have been filing more of the charges since Move Over was revived, defense lawyers in Fairfax said.

David J. Stout, 34, wasn't charged with failing to move over. He was charged with driving while intoxicated, after his blood-alcohol level was measured at .13 according to court records, well above the .08 level that is the legal definition of drunk in Virginia.

Mahalik, 28, was sitting in his cruiser on westbound I-66, about a half-mile east of Route 50, with another driver he had just pulled over in the trooper's passenger seat, police said. About 12:45 a.m., Stout, driving a 2006 Saab, crashed into the rear of the cruiser, which had its emergency lights on, police said.

The impact caused the cruiser to burst into flames and knocked the man sitting next to Mahalik, Chad E. Roger-Steven, 24, unconscious. Mahalik suffered spinal injuries and burns to his legs but managed to get out of the car and pull Roger-Steven to safety before the cruiser completely burned.

A week later, also on I-66, Trooper K.J. Brown watched as a van veered out of control, missing his car but striking others before hitting an embankment and catching fire. Brown rescued the unconscious driver and suffered burns while pulling him out.

A week after that, another state trooper's car was struck by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in Botetourt County.

Last Thursday, Stout pleaded guilty to DWI before Fairfax General District Court Judge Thomas E. Gallahue. Gallahue had seen a recent presentation on the Move Over campaign and decided it could use Stout's help.

So in addition to imposing a year's jail sentence, then suspending all but 45 days, as well as a $500 fine and $197 in court costs, Gallahue ordered Stout to spend 100 hours of community service on the Move Over program.

"Mr. Stout has accepted responsibility for his actions," his lawyer, John Carroll, said yesterday. "He and his family are thankful that the trooper has recovered from his injuries and returned to his duties."

Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for the state police, said the agency "appreciates the opportunity that the judge has afforded us to have other means to educate the public about officer safety." She said police were considering using Stout to create a public service announcement for radio or television, or to assist troopers in making public presentations about Move Over.

Geller also said police would probably request that the judge reduce the amount of time with them to 50 hours and allow Stout to spend the other 50 hours with groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Stout is scheduled to return to court next month so Gallahue can determine whether to modify the sentence and assign Stout to community service with groups besides the state police.

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