Teen sentenced for fatal wreck

Published 11:05 pm Thursday, February 7, 2013

An 18-year-old man was sentenced to a juvenile offender program for the death of his friend in a drunken-driving crash last year.

William James Newcomer sobbed as he read a statement to the parents of Ian Michael Burgett, who were seated in the front row of the courtroom. Burgett was 18 when the BMW convertible he was riding in, driven by Newcomer, crashed on N. Cherry Grove Road at 2:11 a.m. on April 29, 2012.

“I find myself lost,” said Newcomer, who at times was unintelligible. “Not yet has a day passed which I have not been consumed by what happened. … The pain of losing a friend is indescribable. … It kills me to even imagine what your family must be experiencing. … I’m sorry for the unimaginable pain I have caused your family. … I want you to know your family is forever in my thoughts and prayers.”

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The car left the roadway to the right as it was traveling eastbound, said special prosecutor Earle Mobley, the Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney working the case because of a conflict of interest in Suffolk’s office. The car hit a post, a ditch, a telephone box and a tree before coming to rest.

Both Newcomer and Burgett, who were seniors at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, were transported to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where Burgett succumbed to his injuries.

Newcomer admitted to an officer he had been drinking, and the officer could smell alcohol on him, Mobley said. A witness told investigators he saw a can of beer fall out of the car when rescue workers opened the door. Newcomer’s blood-alcohol level was .11, Mobley added.

Defense attorney Grier Ferguson called the case a tragedy. He said five high school students had been drinking together that night and that the others left in a separate car.

Ferguson said later he did not know how the teenagers obtained the alcohol.

Newcomer, who was 17 when the wreck occurred, was sentenced to complete a juvenile offender program, after which he will remain on supervised probation until his 25th birthday. He also must complete the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program after his release.

His participation in the juvenile program will be reviewed in one year, after which he could be released, Mobley said.

Judge William Andrews agreed that the case was a tragedy.

“It will continue to affect both families for the rest of their lives,” he said, adding that he hopes Newcomer can become an ambassador against drinking and driving. “You know firsthand. You’re living a nightmare.”

Mobley, who was appointed because Grier Ferguson is the Suffolk commonwealth’s attorney’s brother, said his own son goes to NSA and knew both Newcomer and Burgett.

“I just think there’s no way you can make this family whole again,” he said after the hearing. “Hopefully they can move on with their life.”