A Fairfax County woman criticized Virginia's sentencing guidelines for drunk drivers yesterday, saying a nine-year sentence is too little for the man who killed her husband and two young children in a Father's Day car crash.
Raymond P. Crowe, 33, of Vienna, was sentenced last week on three charges of involuntary manslaughter for the June 17 deaths of Mark Winesett, 25, and his two children, Jessica, 4, and Mark Jr., 2. Crowe was driving 70 miles an hour along Route 50 in Chantilly when the fatal collision occurred, according to police.
"Nine years is not enough sentencing for three lives," said Donna Winesett. "It seemed somewhat unfair. But it wasn't me versus Raymond Crowe; it was the commonwealth versus Raymond Crowe."
Virginia's sentencing guidelines, which are voluntary, call for a total of six years and 10 months in prison for Crowe. But Circuit Court Judge Thomas S. Kenny, citing the severity of the case, said additional time behind bars was needed. Crowe will be eligible for parole in 18 months, one-sixth of his total sentence.
Patty Herzog, the Virginia chairman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said she thought the sentencing guidelines on manslaughter were "way out of whack . . . . " She said the group would mobilize an effort to change them.
Herzog said the guidelines, which reflect the mid-range of sentences actually handed down by judges in previous years, makes it difficult to change sentencing practices for drunk drivers as public attitudes change.
"If they treated people leniently through the years, does that mean that we have to continue to treat them that way?" she said. "Does that mean we never arrive at a just sentence for drunk drivers? We're talking about dead people."
Rick Kern, staff director for the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines system, said new guidelines will increase sentences for involuntary manslaughter. The new rules, which will go into effect Jan. 2, would call for a maximum sentence on the three manslaughter charges of 10 years and eight months.
The children had eagerly awaited their reunion with the father, who was separated from Donna Winesett and was living in Centreville. Before the Father's Day get-together, the children's babysitter helped them paint their footprints on construction paper. "From the bottom of my sole, Happy Father's Day!" the homemade cards said.
Crowe's blood alcohol level was .16, according to court records, when he slammed into Winesett's car. In Virginia, a person is presumed intoxicated when the blood-alcohol level is .10 or more.
A witness, Donald M. Ralph, testified during a preliminary hearing that he saw Crowe driving about 70 miles an hour and found the victims after they had been thrown from the car.
In handing down the sentence, Kenny said he thought the guidelines gave insufficient recognition to the fact that three people had died. He gave Crowe 10 years on each count but suspended seven years on each of those charges. Kenny also prohibited Crowe from driving in Virginia for 21 years.
Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said that one problem with the guidelines is that there are not many cases in Virginia in which multiple deaths are caused by vehicular manslaughter.
Horan said that during the hearing he argued that Crowe should be incarcerated because of the enormity of what he had done and because of his prior record, which included numerous speeding charges, a 1985 reckless driving conviction and a 1986 drunk driving conviction. Crowe was convicted in 1985 of possession of a controlled drug, records say.
Crowe's defense attorney, Jonathan C. Thacher, said he could not comment on whether he thought the sentence was fair. "Nobody disputes it was a terrible tragedy," Thacher said. "Nine years in the penitentiary is a very long time."
Donna Winesett said she has not been able to work since the accident because of her grief. She says she's been to a couple of meetings of a support group for parents with no surviving children.
"I feel like there is a big hole in my heart," Donna Winesett said. "It seems very unfair for this to happen to two children that have no control over anything. I won't have the chance to see them go to school. I won't have the chance to see them get married or go to college. I was cheated of all of that."