A federal jury exonerated a West Virginia police chief yesterday of responsibility in an auto crash that killed four Northern Virginia teen-agers and said the driver of a car the officer was pursuing at the time of the crash must pay families of the four victims $25,000 each.
The six-member jury returned the judgment against Daniel Chafin, 22, of Jolo, W. Va., who had earlier been convicted of drunken driving and six counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Nov. 21 crash, which killed six people.
The families of four victims filed a $1 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeking damages from Chafin and from the town of Wardensville and its police chief, R.L. Jenks. He had chased Chafin into Virginia where Chafin's car collided head-on near Winchester with a Volkswagen bus carrying the six victims.
The families of four victims, Tracy Mentzer, 19, Sandy Wheeler, 19, Barbara Thomas, 17, all of Herndon, and Timothy Boyd, of Sterling, were awarded the damages under yesterday's verdict.
U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan earlier ruled that Chafin was guilty of civil negligence, but left the question of damages and the police chief's and the town's role up to the jury. The jury in Winchester that convicted Chafin recommended he be sentenced to 30 years in prison. He has not yet been sentenced, his lawyer said yesterday.
The families of the two other victims, 19-year-old Lottie Bays and her mother, Janice, of Gore, Va., have filed a similar suit in federal court in Harrisonburg, Va., seeking $500,000 in damages.