Man enters plea in fatal crash

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A man that police say was illegally using his handheld phone just before his tractor trailer plowed into two other vehicles and killing another driver will be sentenced in June.

Willie Lee Riddick, 51, entered Alford pleas in response to the charges he faced in Suffolk Circuit Court on Wednesday morning stemming from the Carolina Road crash last summer.

Though he maintains his innocence, Riddick acknowledged the evidence and testimony likely would have been sufficient to find him guilty. He is charged with seven crimes related to the accident, but four of them will not be prosecuted as part of a plea agreement.

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Christopher Michael Fitzwater, 28, died in the accident in the 3100 block of Carolina Road just before 8 a.m. on July 25. His passenger, 23-year-old Alexander Edick, was injured.

According to prosecutor George Bruch, evidence showed Riddick, of Sunbury, N.C., left the APM Terminals in Portsmouth early that morning after receiving a load. He worked for C.A. Perry and Son Transit.

Driving southbound on Carolina Road, Riddick came upon the vehicle of James Barry Armstrong, 40, who was stopped to make a turn into a private driveway.

Riddick slammed on the brakes, and the truck jackknifed. It struck both Armstrong’s vehicle and the one driven by Fitzwater, which was coming northbound.

Cellphone records showed Riddick had been on the phone at 7:56 a.m. and again at 8 a.m., Bruch said.

Riddick had no criminal record before the crash, Bruch added.

He entered pleas on involuntary manslaughter, illegal use of a handheld device while driving a commercial vehicle and falsifying driving records. The plea agreement calls for no active prison time with a five-year suspended sentence, but the final sentence will not be imposed until June 27.