Fairfax County prosecutors told WUSA9 that a missing witness avoided criminal charges, while defenders say police also did not gather crucial evidence.
HERNDON, Va. — A family in Northern Virginia wants the laws changed after a distracted driver causes an accident that kills an 86-year-old grandfather and war veteran. The driver walked out of court with only a small fine and no jail time.
“We were confused. we hurt ourselves We were angry," Callie Williams said.
William Glass was devoted to his family. and Country Glass, a retired CIA member, met his wife Phairak while serving in the Vietnam War.
“We have been married 55 years,” he said. "We never had a fight."
“He was the one who held our family together,” said Williams, who is Glass's granddaughter.
"Anything we needed, he was there."
When Glass died as a result of a distracted car accident last year, the family said Fairfax County failed them all.
Glass was driving his wife to a doctor's appointment on Fairfax County Parkway in Herndon on April 4, 2022. They were stopped at a red light when a 35-year-old man named Leonel Alvarado crashed his small dump truck into the back of the couple car. minivan
>Watch the first part of this story below:
Through a translator, Alvarado initially told investigators that his truck suffered a mechanical failure.
WUSA9 reviewed Fairfax County Police body camera video that captured the exchange.
“Apparently there was a brake failure,” the translator told investigators, speaking for Alvarado. "I tried to stop the car and put my feet on the brakes, but it doesn't respond."
Minutes later, police body camera shows investigators seeing another man standing on the side of the road, identified in court documents as Melvin Alvarado López. Lopez also spoke through a translator and told police that he was a passenger in Alvarado's truck. And that a crash failure was not the problem.
"Okay, were you looking at your phone when the accident happened?" the officer is heard questioning Lopez on body camera video.
Lopez responded that Alvarado was searching for an address on Google by looking at his phone shortly before the impact.
Glass's family believes the 86-year-old man leaned over to protect his wife shortly before the impact.
“Her right leg was completely broken in half,” Glass's granddaughter said.
“His spine was broken in three different places. His diaphragm was backwards over his lungs so he couldn't breathe on his own."
The war veteran clung to life in his hospital bed for four months.
"And he said 'I'll try,'" Williams said, breaking down in tears. “I will try to fight. I'll try. And he raised his fist. I'll try."
No matter how much you fight. William Glass passed away on August 3, 2022.
“The whole family was there,” Williams said. "We were all together."
Fairfax County police initially called the case "reckless driving," which could lead to an arrest. The officer on the scene can be heard telling another officer that he was going to start the paperwork right there.
"I'm going to start recklessly writing about this guy," the officer says in the body cam video.
But after police consulted with the Fairfax County District Attorney's office, the charge was reduced to holding a phone while operating a vehicle and driving without a license, as Alvarado only had permission from his students at the time of the accident.
In court, the family of William Glass awaited a trial. They didn't understand.
“It wasn't even a fling,” Williams said. “There were no cases. The driver was only charged with traffic offences. And that was it. Nothing was said about him killing someone else because he was on the phone. Nothing was said at all. Yes, that's all they accuse you of. And it is that.
Williams said the court case lasted less than five minutes.
What happened next shattered the Glass family. Everything again. Alvarado walked out of court with a $125 fine. The citation totals $192 with court costs.
That $125 fine for distracted driving, the only penalty the driver would face as a first-time offender. The charge for driving without a license was dropped because Alvarado passed a full driving test in the months leading up to court.
"There is no justice, there is nothing," Williams said. “What's going to stop [someone] from doing it again? What's going to stop someone from doing it again? When there is nothing.
In a statement, a spokesman for Fairfax County Attorney Steve Descacno called the case a "tragic situation" but said prosecutors' hands were tied.
“Commonwealth Attorney Takes Car Accident Deaths Seriously”; wrote a spokesperson. "However, Virginia's current distracted driving laws impose a high legal barrier to prosecuting traffic fatalities as criminal cases, and the substantial evidence needed to ethically charge a defendant with reckless driving or manslaughter is rarely available. ".
But distracted driving advocates say that wasn't the only problem with the way authorities handled the investigation.
Fairfax County police did not conduct a forensic examination of the driver's cell phone, which could have provided digital proof of what Alvarado was doing on his phone at the time of the accident.
"How do you know this person was only on the GPS when I was holding the phone?" said Jennifer Smith, CEO ofStopdistractions.org.
In a statement, Fairfax County police told WUSA9: "A forensic examination of the phone was not necessary because the witness placed the phone in [Alvarado's] hand and admitted that the driver was looking at the GPS."
But now that the witness is missing and the body camera is apparently not enough evidence for prosecutors, Smith said a forensic examination could have provided an additional layer of evidence that Alvarado was on his cellphone at the time of the crash.
“That the Fairfax Police Department doesn't do a forensic analysis, so they just take someone's word for it? They should have done that analysis,” Smith said.
Fairfax County police say forensic examination of Alvarado's cell phone would not have made any difference in a separate statement to WUSA9.
“Detectives worked with the Commonwealth Prosecutor's Office to obtain these charges, which did not rise to the level of reckless driving,” a police spokesperson wrote. “The facts and circumstances of the accident support the allegations made. The Fairfax County Sheriff's Department mourns the death of Mr. Glass and routinely emphasizes the importance of safe driving.
The Glass family said this is not good enough.
"You can't just take someone's life and then walk away because of poor judgment," Williams said.
Fairfax County Police are now questioning the statement WUSA9 received from prosecutors about the significance of this missing witness.
In an email, the police said: “The decision of the Public Ministry not to file additional and more serious charges in this case has nothing to do with the statements of the witnesses. Your statement seems to imply yes. No.
In 2019, a distracted driver in Chesterfield County, Virginia was charged with manslaughter for a distracted driving accident that killed 56-year-old Karen Giles. The driver, Samuel Allebaugh, was texting at the time of the accident. He served an eight-month prison sentence and later became a spokesman against distracted driving.
- Study: Virginia has the most distracted drivers in the country