It's been almost a year since Lisa Bates was killed as the car in which she was riding was struck by a drunk driver, but her friends say memories of the 17-year-old cheerleader remain very much a part of Fairfax County's South Lakes High School.
After her death, hundreds of her fellow students joined Students Against Drunk Driving, and many still wear small red bows in her memory. A Lisa Bates scholarship was created, and many of the students wrote letters to a Fairfax County judge telling him about Lisa.
Yesterday, that judge sentenced Roger O. Simmers, 23, of Herndon, who pleaded guilty to hit-and-run and drunk driving charges in the Dec. 8 death of Reston resident Bates, to six years in prison -- five of those suspended. Judge J. Howe Brown suspended Simmers' driver's license for 20 years, fined him $1,000 and ordered him to undergo substance abuse and psychological counseling.
"I'm glad it's over. It dragged on way too long," said Lisa's mother, Patricia Bates, her eyes filling with tears outside the Fairfax County Circuit Court. "We have to get on with the rest of our lives, even though our daughter doesn't have one," she said, standing with her husband Glenn and 15-year-old daughter Karin.
Patricia Bates said that she was sorry that a manslaughter charge against Simmers had been dropped in June in exchange for the guilty pleas.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lorraine Nordlund said of Brown's decision to suspend Simmers' driver's license for 20 years, "I think it's great," adding that she was not aware of similar decisions. However, she said she was disappointed that five of the six years in the hit-and-run term were suspended.
In suspending part of the sentence, Brown said, "The tragic truth is that Lisa Bates died within 11 minutes of the accident." Brown, looking at Simmers as the defendant stood beside his attorney, said Simmers probably could have done nothing for Lisa, even if he had not fled the scene and gone to his girlfriend's house.
The South Lakes senior was killed in the early morning hours when the car in which she was a passenger was struck broadside by a car driven by Simmers, who ran a red light at the intersection of Rosedown and Kings Lakes drives in Reston, according to police reports filed in the case.
Betty Simmers, the defendant's mother, took the stand yesterday for some of the most emotionally charged moments in the hot, packed courtroom.
"He does have a family who cares, even though he is not an honor student . . . . He is valuable," said Betty Simmers, clutching a yellow tissue. "I feel very sorry for the other family, but I have not been able to talk to them," she said as she began to sob.
The Bates family and Lisa's friends listened stoically as Betty Simmers cried and talked about her son's lifelong frustrations from the learning disability dyslexia, which often affects the ability to read.
Since the crash, she said, her son has been depressed, has had nightmares and has received telephone calls from people who said, "Hope you get the worst."
Prosecutor Nordlund said Betty Simmer's plea for mercy demonstrated the prosecution's contention that Roger Simmers refuses to take responsibility for his actions: "I am struck by one thing -- the longstanding attitude of Roger Simmers that he has been a victim all his life."
Defense attorney Barry Schneiderman said that his client, who has a condition that was diagnosed as post-traumatic stress, made a grave mistake. "Roger has seen and felt the furor of this community," he said. "Lisa Bates is gone; we grieve . . . but let's not destroy Roger Simmers in the process."
Schneiderman said later, "Roger needs a lot of help and hopefully will get it." He said that Simmers, who has spent the last four months in the county jail, probably will serve four to five more months before receiving parole.
Before he was sentenced, Roger Simmers told the court: "I'm sorry for Lisa's death, and I do know what the family is going through."