A Lorton man pleaded guilty yesterday to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a motorist who was struck as he stood behind his disabled car on Interstate 95, then dragged more than eight miles after becoming impaled on the car.
Josuel P. Galdino, 25, wept throughout the 15-minute hearing in front of Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Arthur B. Vieregg. The family and friends of the victim, Fitsum Gebreegziabher, 27, of Toronto, also cried, and one acquaintance was overcome and had to leave the courtroom.
Galdino, through attorney Daniel T. Lopez, admitted that he and another man left the Washington nightclub Nation about 4 a.m. on Feb. 29 and headed south toward Lorton. As Galdino drove his Mitsubishi Montero Sport through the Mixing Bowl area of Springfield, he suddenly encountered a stalled Toyota Camry in the left lane. Gebreegziabher apparently was standing behind it, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian M. Rodway said.
Lopez said Galdino and his passenger knew they had hit someone, but did not realize Gebreegziabher's body was still on the vehicle. Galdino called police about 6 a.m. to report that he had struck someone on I-95, but officers at the scene were the first to discover Gebreegziabher's body, in the parking lot near Galdino's townhouse.
Galdino did not make a statement, and only answered the judge's procedural questions with subdued responses.
Rodway said police followed a trail of blood from the accident scene to Lorton. He said a medical examiner would testify that the impact of the accident did not kill Gebreegziabher. "What killed the victim is the dragging, from the first hit all the way down to Lorton," Rodway said.
The prosecutor also implied that Galdino should have known Gebreegziabher's body was still on his vehicle. He said photos indicated "the victim's body is thrown up on the hood, because the hood is bent and consistent with the impact of a body."
Lopez said his own medical expert would testify that the impact of Galdino's SUV killed Gebreegziabher, not the dragging. Vieregg said he probably would hear testimony from both sides at Galdino's sentencing in September. Galdino faces a prison term of one to 10 years.
Fairfax authorities originally charged Galdino with drunk driving and felony hit-and-run in addition to manslaughter. But Galdino's blood alcohol level was 0.0, Lopez said, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss both the drunk driving and hit-and-run charges in exchange for a guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors said Galdino probably would have faced no charges if he had stopped after the accident, which occurred not on a shoulder but in a lane of traffic just south of the area where the Capital Beltway merges onto I-95 south. Lopez said that Galdino was driving between 55 and 60 mph and that "the time between when he saw the car and the impact was simultaneous."
Rodway said he did not know why the 1989 Camry driven by Gebreegziabher had broken down. But the prosecutor revealed that a Fairfax officer was the first to spot the Camry after the accident, about 4:28 a.m.
The Camry obviously had been struck from behind and its hazard lights were flashing, the officer reported, but no one was with the car. The officer did see a shoe laying behind the Camry, Rodway said, but in the darkness he saw no blood. The officer notified Virginia State Police that a vehicle had been abandoned and that a tow truck was needed, Rodway said.
Galdino drove home, where Gebreegziabher's body apparently became dislodged from the Montero Sport when Galdino stopped and backed into a parking space. In the darkness, Lopez said, Galdino and his friend did not see the body. But he called police about 6 a.m., and told responding officers that "he realized and knew that he struck somebody on I-95," Rodway said.
In the meantime, the wife of an off-duty Fairfax officer living in the same townhouse complex spotted Gebreegziabher's body in the parking lot, Rodway said. The officer then notified police.