Norfolk man convicted in crash case
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005
The driver in a crash that killed an acquaintance last Sept. 4 was convicted Wednesday of involuntary manslaughter in Circuit Court. Noting that Bryan Miller, 21, of Norfolk, had been traveling at an unsafe rate of speed and made conflicting statements to police and witnesses, Judge Westbrook Parker declared Miller guilty of the death of Brandon Bayens, 22, in a bench trial (he had been arrested in April).
Just before the accident, Bayens’ friend Ashley Hafford testified, Miller and Bayens had been at her home, and Miller had been bragging about his 2004 Dodge Neon, which he’d purchased seven months before.
&uot;(Miller) talked about how fast his car could do, and what he had under the hood,&uot; Hafford said.
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The men left the home, allegedly to get cigarettes from Bayens’ home. Along the way, the car, traveling far above the speed limit, flipped over in the 1000 block of Hosier Road just before midnight. Bayens, a construction worker and father of two children under age three, died at the scene.
Marcus Beale and Willie Parker, who had been riding in a car coming from the opposite direction, testified that they saw the car flip over three times, and that Miller told them that he was going to jail.
Master police officer Mark Erie testified that he smelled alcohol on Miller’s person and that his eyes looked bloodshot and clothes disheveled. Eric went on to say that Miller, underage at the time, told him he had had two beers, but did not run a sobriety test because Miller complained of pain in his head, arm and leg. He and trainee Heather Brooks testified that Miller seemed coherent and attentive to their questions.
Officer Duffie McLamb testified that Miller told him that the car had been going &uot;maybe 80 miles an hour.&uot; Prosecutor Jeff James elicited that skid marks had begun 280 feet from where the car was located.
A few days after the accident, Hafford said, she spoke to Miller, who’d been treated and released from Obici Hospital, on the phone, and he said that the car had been going &uot;between 130 and 160 miles an hour.&uot;
Dr. Joseph Saady of the state Department of Forensics in Richmond, testified that Miller’s blood alcohol level was .07, .01 below the legal limit, but illegal anyway since Miller was underage at the time.
After James rested, defense attorney Barton Daniel filed a motion to dismiss the matter, claiming that the situation did not meet the requirements for involuntary manslaughter. James and Parker disagreed, and, after a break, Miller took the stand.
He began by testifying that he’d worked a 12-hour shift, ending at 9 a.m. the morning of the crash. He and a friend went to Hafford’s house, and Miller denied boasting of his car’s speed, saying that his friend, referring to magazine articles he’d read, was discussing its speed.
Miller testified that Bayens offered him a beer. He at first declined, then drank it, and later had another alcoholic beverage, causing him to go outside and vomit.
Bayens came outside and said that he wanted cigarettes, Miller testified. Miller said that he saw that Bayens had been drinking, and offered to take him to Bayens’ home.
When they got to Hosier, Miller said, Bayens &uot;asked me to take the car up to speed.&uot;
Miller estimated that he’d been driving 65 miles an hour (30 over the speed limit) and that Bayens informed him that a left turn was coming.
The turn, however, was going right, and Miller said that he applied the brakes.
&uot;The back end (of the car) flipped up, and it scared me,&uot; he said. &uot;I slammed the brakes… and overcorrected.&uot;
He went on to say that he didn’t feel any affects of alcohol, and said that he didn’t recall the &uot;130-160 miles an hour&uot; conversation with Hafford.
&uot;I didn’t intend to hurt anyone,&uot; he said. &uot;Myself, my car, or Brandon.&uot;
On cross examination, Miller admitted that he had told Brooks that he was trying to see &uot;what the car could do.&uot; He denied telling McLamb that the car was going 80 miles an hour, saying that he told the officer the car had been traveling over the speed limit.
On redirect, when asked if he was positive Miller had said 80 miles an hour, McLamb replied &uot;Absolutely.&uot;
Daniel rested, then again asked Parker to set aside the evidence.
&uot;In a case of involuntary manslaughter, there must be criminal negligence,&uot; he said. &uot;There has to be more than a joyride in an area that (Miller) is not familiar with. This comes to close to not being involuntary manslaughter to actually be involuntary manslaughter. There is no real solid concrete bit of evidence as to why the car left the road. There are a lot more questions than answers, and I don’t think the evidence is sufficient enough to convict him. There is no evidence of him being smashed or intoxicated.&uot;
That might have actually worked against him, said Parker in his verdict.
&uot;The physical findings of the police are not enough to warrant a conviction,&uot; he said. &uot;The high speed, 65, 70 miles an hour is not enough to warrant a conviction. But when we combine everything, we’ve all made a big deal of him being intelligent and coherent after the accident. He told the officer he’d been going 80, and a few days later he told (Hafford) 130 or 160. When you couple together all that, there’s no question he’s guilty of involuntary manslaughter.&uot;
When the verdict was announced, Hafford and Nora Paitsel, the mother of Bayens’ children, shared a tearful embrace. Miller showed no emotion, only briefly turning to look at his family. About a minute after the verdict was announced, he used his chair to crack his back.
Outside the courthouse, Nora Paitsel, the mother of Bayens’ children, expressed her gratitude.
&uot;I’ve been waiting for this day for a year and two days,&uot; she said.
Miller, who has previous convictions for speeding and public intoxication, will be sentenced Nov. 22, when he will face up to 10 years in prison. Parker allowed him to remain free on bond, forbidding him from driving or drinking. It was unclear whether he would appeal.