Robert L. Williams, the driver of a car that slammed into a crowd at a bus stop and killed seven persons, was ordered held on $10,000 bond yesterday on a charge of involuntary manslaughter while armed, pending a grand jury investigation.
Williams, 41, is charged in connection with the death of 24-year-old Theodore Chrisp, a porter at an Alexandria nursing center, who was killed along with his wife and three children when the car Williams was driving went out of control near the Washington Navy Yard at Second and M streets SE.
Prosecutors originally charged Williams with voluntary manslaughter in the Aug. 25 incident, but the U.S. attorney's office yesterday changed the charge to involuntary manslaughter while armed, accusing Williams of "gross negligence." Prosecutors charged Williams with using his car as a weapon.
A spokeswoman for the office said the change was made "out of an abundance of caution," explaining that it would be easier for the court to find probable cause to send the lesser charge to a grand jury. The penalty is the same for both charges, she said.
The grand jury is not bound by the initial charge, and prosecutors are expected to seek homicide indictments in all seven deaths.
Williams could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted on the manslaughter charge. He is also charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and driving while intoxicated and has pleaded not guilty to the lesser charges.
At a preliminary hearing at D.C. Superior Court yesterday, a police officer testified that Williams was driving an estimated 70 to 80 mph before the car flipped and caught fire, and that his blood-alcohol level was .10 percent.
Williams, who was injured in the crash, was being treated at D.C. General Hospital and did not appear at yesterday's hearing.
Meanwhile, Williams was also being held without bond following the issuance of a warrant against him by the D.C. Parole Board, which is considering whether to hold hearings to consider revoking Williams' parole on a 1977 armed robbery conviction here.
Parole board director Bernice Just said Williams was paroled in December 1977 after serving about 11 months of a 10-year sentence on the robbery conviction. The board could order him to begin serving the rest of that term.
In addition, Williams was on parole until 2000 after serving part of a 20-year sentence for a 1980 bank robbery conviction in Alexandria. Virginia authorities released Williams from prison in that case in July, about seven weeks before the crash.
Also killed in the crash, described as the worst accident in the District in recent memory, were 6-month-old Charquita McKethan and Linda Taylor, 18. Two other people were injured in the incident.