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July 12, 2016

Jury awards $6 million in wrongful death suit

Jacklyn Butler, 24, died when Dwayne Baker’s car hit hers head-on the night of Aug. 11, 2013, in Southern Fauquier.
A Fauquier jury has awarded a $6 million judgment to survivors of a 24-year-old Goldvein woman whom a drunken driver killed three years ago.

The seven-member jury deliberated 75 minutes Thursday, June 30, before returning its verdict in the wrongful death lawsuit against Dwayne E. Baker in Fauquier County Circuit Court. The trial took place a day earlier.

Jacklyn Bridget Butler died the night of Aug. 11, 2013, as she drove her Honda Civic south on Route 651 toward her parents’ home.

Speeding north, Mr. Baker passed a truck pulling a travel trailer — totaling 75 feet long — on a double yellow line. The Culpeper resident’s Honda Accord hit Ms. Butler’s car head-on at 11:18 p.m. and drove it 150 feet backwards, according to state police.

She died at the scene.

Mr. Baker claimed he had swerved to miss a deer, refused a field sobriety test and argued with police at the scene, according to court records. He refused blood-alcohol tests for five hours after the accident. When, a blood test took place, it showed an alcohol level less than legal intoxication. But, at his criminal trial, expert witnesses for the prosecution testified that Mr. Baker would have been legally intoxicated when the wreck took place.

A jury convicted Mr. Baker of manslaughter in September 2014. The judge that December followed the jury’s recommendation and imposed a six-year prison sentence.

“The defendant was a habitual offender of the truth,” said Kevin Locklin, a Manassas lawyer, who represented Ms. Butler’s family in the subsequent civil suit.

The lawsuit sought $7 million in damages.

The young woman’s mother and brother, Tina Marie Butler and Dylan Butler, testified about the emotional distress of their loss. Her father, Larry Wayne “Chuck” Butler, died of cancer in July 2014.

Mr. Locklin said his case simply laid out the facts about Mr. Baker’s negligence and lack of remorse, along with Ms. Butler’s virtues.

“How do you place a value on a human life?” the attorney said of the lawsuit. “The jury was tremendous. They were very attentive and deliberate.”

Ms. Butler graduated from Liberty High School in 2007 and attended Lord Fairfax Community College. She was a licensed cosmetologist who worked at the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles in Warrenton. She was an avid animal lover and rescuer.

Ms. Butler had picked up two rescued kittens, who died with her in the wreck.

The damages awarded in the case will come in part from Mr. Baker’s insurance. He also will have the judgment facing him for the rest of his life, with the potential garnishment of future earnings to help pay Ms. Butler’s survivors, according to Mr. Locklin.

Roopal Gupta, a Fairfax attorney who represented the defendant in the lawsuit, failed to respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Locklin, who has practiced law since 1982, said the $6 million judgment is the largest of his career. It also could rank as the largest jury award ever in a Fauquier lawsuit.
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