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November 16, 2018

Drowsy driver found guilty in veterinarian’s death

Photo/Cassandra Brown
Wilian Alfredo Mendoza waits outside the courthouse Friday morning for the jury’s verdict in his manslaughter trial for the traffic death of local veterinarian Kathryn M. Krista (inset).
This case isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about justice and accountability for the tragic death of Dr. Katy Krista.
— Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles K. Peters
Mendoza Involuntary Manslaughter Case
• What: Jan. 5, 2018, fatal vehicle collision on Route 50 in Fauquier just west of Middleburg.

• Victim: Dr. Kathryn M. Krista, 41, of Bluemont.

• Defendant: Wilian Alfredo Mendoza, 22, of Stephens City.

• Jury trial: Nov. 15-16 in Fauquier County Circuit Court.

• Verdict: Guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

• Jury: 6 men and 6 women, selected Thursday morning.

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

• Defense lawyers: Assistant Public Defenders Catherine Carre and DaRong P. Hultman.

• Judge: Herman A. Whisenant Jr.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Update: The jury at 4 p.m. Friday recommended a sentence of 18 months in prison for Wilian Alfredo Mendoza, 22, on the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Mr. Mendoza faced a maximum 10 years behind bars.

Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. will sentence Mr. Mendoza on Jan. 30. Judge Whisenant revoked the Stephens City man’s personal recognizance bond; he will remain incarcerated until then.

•  •  •

It took a Fauquier County Circuit Court jury almost two hours Friday morning to convict a plumber of involuntary manslaughter for a traffic crash near Middleburg that killed a local veterinarian in January.

Wilian Alfredo Mendoza, 22, of Stephens City faces a maximum 10 years in prison and $2,500 fine for causing the Jan. 5 head-on crash that resulted in the death of Dr. Kathryn M. Krista, who worked at The Piedmont Equine Practice near The Plains.

After closing arguments Friday, the jury of six men and six women delivered its verdict at 11:55 a.m.

Minutes later, Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. called a recess until 1 p.m., when the jury will return for the sentencing phase of the case.

“This case isn’t about winning or losing,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles K. Peters, who prosecuted the case. “It’s about justice and accountability for the tragic death of Dr. Katy Krista.”

Assistant Public Defender Catherin Carre, who represents Mr. Mendoza, declined to comment after the jury’s decision.

Mr. Mendoza’s two-day trial on the felony charge began at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Eight people Thursday testified, including Mr. Mendoza and eyewitness Brian Ganey of Winchester, a mason who drove home after work from Northern Virginia when the accident occurred within feet of his vehicle.

The collision took place at about 3 p.m. on Route 50 in Fauquier, just west of Middleburg.

Mr. Mendoza — driving a 2004 Dodge Durango in the westbound lane of Route 50 — told state police and testified that he fell asleep when his vehicle crossed the center line and struck Dr. Krista’s 2016 Ford Explorer. He claimed to have no recollection of the accident.

The apprentice plumber drove from work in Northern Virginia toward his Stephens City home when the fatal accident occurred.

Alone in her vehicle, Dr. Krista of Bluemont drove east, toward Middleburg. The well-regarded veterinarian died at the scene near the St. Louis Road intersection.

But Mr. Mendoza’s account of events leading up to the collision conflicted with Mr. Ganey’s testimony and comments he allegedly made to state police Special Agent Adam Galton, who helped investigate the case.

Mr. Ganey first noticed the defendant’s Dodge Durango behind him shortly after he left the roundabout at Gilbert’s Corner and headed west on Route 50 toward Middleburg.

The prosecution witness said Mr. Mendoza’s vehicle crossed the highway’s centerline five or more times.

“If there was an approaching vehicle, he would have hit that one,” Mr. Ganey, who spent about 40 minutes on the witness stand, told the jury.

He believed Mr. Mendoza might have been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Toxicology reports showed neither in his system.

Mr. Ganey also contended that Mr. Mendoza repeatedly tailgated him.

He hoped that Mr. Mendoza would pass him so that “I would have a little more control over the situation.”

But, Mr. Medoza’s vehicle remained behind him until the accident took place, Mr. Ganey testified.

“I believe he tried to pass” (my) vehicle seconds before the accident, Mr. Ganey said. “He came upon my rear quarter panel.”

Of the collision, Mr. Ganey said: “It sounded like a bomb went off.”

He parked his vehicle along the shoulder and quickly ran to Dr. Krista’s SUV.

“Total devastation,” said Mr. Ganey, describing the Ford Explorer. “It looked like an accordion with the engine knocked out.”

He attempted unsuccessfully to open the passenger doors.

He and another man then pealed back the shattered windshield of Dr. Krista’s vehicle, Mr. Ganey recalled.

Touching her neck, he couldn’t detect a pulse.

“She passed on,” Mr. Ganey said.

Her husband Ben survives Dr. Krista.

Mr. Ganey then went to Mr. Mendoza’s vehicle.

“ ‘You drunk SOB, you killed that women’,” Mr. Ganey said he told the plumber.

Mr. Mendoza replied, “ ‘Me no drunk. Me sleeping’,” the witness testified.

Injured in the accident, Mr. Mendoza received treatment at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He entered the courtroom Thursday with a limp and a brown wooden cane.

In a 18-month period, beginning in July 2016, Mr. Mendoza got convicted four times for speeding and once for failure to obey a highway sign, according to court records.

Special Agent Galton in February interviewed Mr. Mendoza at the defendant’s home in Stephens City.

“He said that he noticed he had nodded off about five times, to his recollection,” before the accident occurred, the special agent testified.

Mr. Mendoza disputed that account.

“I said twice” during his interview with the special agent, said Mr. Mendoza, who testified for about 23 minutes. “But he was speaking over me.”

Mr. Peters, the prosecutor, suggested that a transcript of the interview indicated Mr. Mendoza stated he had fallen asleep five times.

The defendant also took exception to Mr. Ganey’s testimony.

Mr. Mendoza insisted he didn’t tailgate Mr. Ganey, swerve across the Route 50 center line four to five times or fall asleep five times behind the wheel.

He claims he fell asleep twice just west of Middleburg — the second time resulting in the head-on collision that killed Dr. Krista.

Ms. Carre, who represents Mr. Mendoza, asked Judge Whisenant to throw out the case because “insufficient” evidence existed to support an involuntary manslaughter charge.

The charge requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant’s conduct represents a gross, wanton, reckless and callous disregard for safety and human life.

Ms. Carre, who called two witnesses to testify, argued that her client intended but didn’t stop to rest, nap or get a snack to revive himself because that opportunity didn’t exist in Middleburg or its outskirts before the accident took place.

But Mr. Peters vigorously challenged that argument.

Mr. Mendoza testified he planned to stop at the Middleburg Exxon station to get a caffeinated drink and perhaps a snack but decided against that because the business seemed too busy.

Mr. Peters, who called six witnesses to testify, argued the defendant could have parked on a side street and bought a soda and food at another Middleburg establishment.

Under the prosecutor’s persistent questioning, Heather Fadely — the public defenders’ office investigator — insisted that heavy Friday afternoon traffic and “destination” visits to the upscale town made that option virtually impossible.

Mr. Peters seemed incredulous.

Mr. Mendoza “knew he needed to stop,” the prosecutor told the judge.

Failing to do so, “in and of itself” justifies the involuntary manslaughter charge, Mr. Peters said.

Judge Whisenant promptly denied the motion to toss out the case.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.
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