A Rockville man was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison yesterday for a road rage incident on Interstate 66 in Fairfax in July that ended in the death of a McLean man whose car flipped over.

Mark A. Blowe, 46, was convicted in January of involuntary manslaughter and felony hit-and-run in the death of Bryan E. Johnson, 52, a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra.

The jury took only an hour to deliberate Blowe's guilt, but after Fairfax County prosecutors asked for the maximum 20-year sentence, jurors recommended three years on the manslaughter conviction and six months for the hit-and-run. Under Virginia law, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Henry E. Hudson could not exceed that recommendation.

"If I were deciding this case on my own," Hudson told Blowe yesterday, the sentence might "very well be substantially more than the jury set." Hudson called the episode "one of the worst cases of road rage this court has seen -- and I've tried many of these cases."

Motorists who witnessed the July 4 incident said Blowe's vehicle sped in front of Johnson's shortly after both had exited the Capital Beltway onto westbound I-66. They said that Blowe's Dodge Intrepid tailgated Johnson's Toyota Camry and that Blowe then pulled in front and twice slammed on his brakes. After the second braking, the Camry swerved into the center concrete divider and launched into the air.

Blowe testified that Johnson had been tailgating him and made a rude gesture while they drove on the Beltway. Blowe acknowledged braking in front of Johnson, but he said he was 10 to 15 car lengths away from the Camry when it rammed the divider.

Blowe previously served nine years in a Maryland prison for assault and battery. According to Prince George's County court records, he admitted inflicting multiple blunt-force trauma injuries to an 18-month-old boy in April 1982. Initially charged with assault with intent to murder and child abuse, he pleaded guilty to a reduced assault charge. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and paroled after nine, the records state.

Jurors in the Fairfax case were told only that there was an assault conviction. Blowe's family pointed out that it happened 20 years ago and said that he had paid the penalty.

"I regret this whole incident very deeply," Blowe said yesterday. His sister, Julie Procter, said Blowe is "very compassionate and caring for people. He would not hurt anybody."

Johnson's longtime companion, Alice Fisher, said she was disappointed the jury didn't recommend a harsher sentence. "They had the opportunity to make this an example in road rage cases, and they didn't," she said. Fisher noted that Johnson was a popular violin teacher and devoted outdoorsman. "It just goes beyond one life that's lost," she said.

Staff writer Ruben Castaneda contributed to this report.