A 23-year-old West Virginia man already convicted of drunk driving was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter yesterday in the deaths of six Northern Virginia residents killed in a high-speed crash last November on a rural highway west of Winchester, Va.
"If I could do this over again, I would. And I would be the one to die if just one of them could live," Daniel Chafin had told the jury from the witness stand during his three-day trial. The Frederick County Circuit Court jury recommended that Chafin be sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment, the maximum penalty for the six manslaughter counts.
Judge Robert K. Woltz deferred sentencing and scheduled a June 30 hearing on a request by Chafin's lawyers to set aside the verdict, which was returned after an hour and 45 minutes of deliberation. Chafin, of Jolo, W.Va., is already serving a six-month jail term on a separate drunk driving charge stemming from the same head-on collision.
The crash occurred after Chafin was pursued from Wardensville, W.Va., by the town's police chief, R.L. Jenks, who testified that he spotted a car without license tags and suspected it was stolen. Chafin drove north at speeds as high as 100 miles an hour, according to Jenks' testimony, before crossing into Virginia where the collision occurred.
All six passengers in an oncoming car were killed. They were Tracy Mentzer, 19, Sandy Wheeler, 19, and Barbara E. Thomas, 17, all of Herndon; Tim Boyd, 19, of Sterling; and Janice Bays, 53, and her daughter Lottie, 17, both of Gore, Va., a town northwest of Winchester.
In asking the jury to recommend the maximum sentence, Commonwealth's Attorney Lawrence R. Ambrogi argued that Chafin showed gross negligence by speeding while intoxicated along a two-lane country road at night and by fleeing from a police officer. "You won't find a more gross case of involuntary manslaughter than this case," Ambrogi said.
Nikolas E. Parthemos, one of Chafin's lawyers, contended that the cause of the crash remains uncertain. He appealed for leniency, saying that all six deaths resulted from a single accident and that part of the blame lay with the policeman.
In his testimony Thursday, Chafin acknowledged that he had been "drinking all day" before the crash and was "chasing liquor with beer."