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October 31, 2017

Distracted driver gets year for fatal, rear-end accident

Photo/WJLA-TV
The victims’ vehicle burst into flames after a Ford F-250 slammed into it at the Freemans Ford Road traffic signal just west of Remington.
It was like a bomb . . . . It was a fireball when it went up.
— Truck driver Eddie Thomas, accident witness
Reckless Driving Trial
• What: June 12 traffic accident on Route 29 at Freemans Ford Road near Remington.

• Victims: Juan Lopez Jimenez, 37, and Hortencia Lainez Lopez, 38, of Culpeper died at the scene.

• Defendant: Jonathan Dodson, 34, of Gordonsville.

• Trial: By judge, Tuesday, Oct. 31, in Fauquier County General District Court.

• Conviction: Reckless driving.

• Sentence: 12 months in jail and $2,500 fine; driver license suspended six months.

• Defense attorney: Marie E. Washington.

• Prosecutor: Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles K. Peters.

• Judge: J. Gregory Ashwell.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
For a few frantic moments, the Kettle Run High School teacher repeatedly tried to rescue a man and woman from an SUV engulfed in fire.

Driver Juan Lopez Jimenez and passenger Hortencia Lainez Lopez on June 12 had stopped along Route 29 at the Freemans Ford Road near Remington, waiting for the traffic signal to turn green.

But before any vehicles at the intersection budged, Jonathan Dodson of Gordonsville slammed his 2003 Ford F-250 pickup truck into the back of Mr. Jimenez’s 2000 Oldsmobile Bravada, sending it flying into the Route 29 median.

Taking his eyes off the road, he reached for a drink and failed to brake in time to avoid the accident, Mr. Dodson, 34, explained in a written statement to investigators.

Mr. Jimenez and Ms. Lopez, both 38-year-old Culpeper landscapers, died at the scene.

William Davidson, who teaches technical classes at Kettle Run, watched from his car as the approximately 7:20 a.m. crash occurred.

In graphic detail, Mr. Davidson described the accident and aftermath Tuesday during Mr. Dodson’s trial on one count of reckless driving in Fauquier General District Court.

After 2-1/2-hour trial, Judge J. Gregory Ashwell convicted Mr. Dodson, sentencing him to a maximum 12 months in jail, fining him $2,500 and suspending his driver’s license for six months.

Mr. Dodson, a UPS driver, has appealed that verdict to Fauquier County Circuit Court.

Traveling at approximately 60 mph, Mr. Dodson rear-ended the Bravada, according to investigators.

“He didn’t’ slow down,” said Mr. Davidson, recounting the accident. “He kept going.”

As a result, the Bravada burst into flames and “flew into the air,” Mr. Davidson recalled.

“I tried to get the driver out,” but the door wouldn’t open, he told Judge Ashwell.

To no avail, Mr. Davidson tried to pry open the front passenger door to free Ms. Lopez, who had an 8-year-old son.

He then attempted to pull her through the car window. That failed, because he could not unfasten Ms. Lopez's seatbelt.

“‘You gotta unbuckle your seatbelt’,” Mr. Davidson remembered telling her. “She couldn’t even think. She was trying to get out.”

By that time, Ms. Lopez’s hair and face had caught fire, he said.

“Her face was burning,” Mr. Davidson added.

Because “the seatbelt wouldn’t come lose,” he tried to cut Ms. Lopez free with a pocket knife.

Losing his balance, he fell to the ground, Mr. Davidson said.

“She’s still just screaming, ‘No! No! No!’,” recalled the Culpeper resident, struggling to compose himself.

A Fauquier firefighter/medic then pulled him away from the vehicle, Mr. Davidson said.

“He threw me to the ground and said (the vehicle) was going to blow. There was no going back. It was done.”

Mr. Davidson made an explosion sound.

Flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital, he received treatment for cuts and burns during several days of treatment.

Truck driver Eddie Thomas of Louisa County also witnessed the accident and attempted to rescue Mr. Jimenez and Ms. Lopez.

“When the pickup struck” the Bravada, “it went up in the air and did a 180,” immediately bursting into flames, Mr. Thomas said.

“It was like a bomb. . . . It was a fireball when it went up.”

Mr. Dodson also slammed into a 2011 Toyota Corolla, whose driver received treatment at Fauquier Hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

Apologizing for his actions, Mr. Dodson told the judge: “I wish I could do it all over again, go back and not . . . . I am at a loss of words, your honor.”

His comments failed to impress Judge Ashwell, who noted that Mr. Dodson remained apparently undeterred after getting convicted about four years ago of reckless driving in Culpeper County.

His 30-day jail term for that crime got suspended, which Judge Ashwell called “pretty unusual.” Mr. Dodson also got fined $500 and had to perform community service.

“You have to look at the outcomes” of the June 12 crash, the judge said moments before sentencing Mr. Dodson. “Two people were incinerated, essentially.”

Senior Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles Peters prosecuted the case.

“The court has effectively and properly punished the most serious cases of distracted driving,” Mr. Peters said after the ruling. “Hopefully, this will get people to pay attention and prevent more distracted driving.”

In March, Judge Ashwell found a Stafford County woman guilty of reckless driving in the death of 5-year-old Samuel Legg, who lived near New Baltimore.

The accident also took place at the Route 29 and Freemans Ford Road intersection, the day after Thanksgiving. Samuel died three days later at Inova Fairfax Hospital’s trauma center.

The defendant — Felicia Ann Arbujo — had insisted she remained undistracted seconds before the crash, even when she reached for a cup of hot chocolate and the top came off in her hand.

Imposing the maximum penalty, Judge Ashwell sentenced Ms. Arbujo to 12 months in jail, fined her maximum $2,500 and suspended her driver’s license for six months.

Ms. Arbujo in July appealed her conviction to the Fauquier County Circuit Court. But a 12-person jury also found her guilty, sentencing her to 12 months in jail and fining her $2,500.

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citizen observer · October 31, 2017 at 6:33 pm
"Mr. Dodson remained apparently undeterred after getting convicted about four years ago of reckless driving in Culpeper County."

And he is still a UPS Driver?! I always thought that UPS had tough standards for drivers. Guess I was wrong. Pretty scary what is on the road nowadays...
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