JOHN BEVERLY CHAPMAN, JR.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FREDERICK COUNTY N. Randolph Bryant,
E. Ransom (Ransom Law Office, on brief), for appellant.
Victoria Johnson, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R.
Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Humphreys, Decker and Russell Argued at
G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE.
Beverly Chapman, Jr., appellant, was convicted in a bench
trial of felony reckless driving that caused the death of a
passenger, in violation of Code §§ 46.2-852 and
46.2-868(B).On appeal, he contends that the trial court
misinterpreted the requirements of Code § 46.2-868(B)
and that the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient to
sustain a conviction when the statutory elements are
correctly identified. For the reasons that follow, we affirm
about 5:30 a.m. on August 21, 2015, Trooper Josh Meyers of
the Virginia State Police observed a car's tail light at
the bottom of an embankment off of Route 522 in Frederick
County. After investigating the accident, Trooper Meyers
determined that appellant had fallen asleep while driving
himself and two co-workers to a job site. The car veered off
the road and down the embankment, flipping over at least
three times before landing on its roof in a field. Appellant,
who was wearing a seat belt, was not injured. The passenger
in the front seat, who was not wearing a seat belt, was
ejected from the car and sustained serious injuries. The
passenger in the back seat (hereinafter the
"victim"), also not wearing a seat belt, was
ejected from the car. He became caught under the car as it
rolled and died at the scene from blunt force trauma to his
head, neck, and extremities.
to this appeal, appellant was charged with violating Code
§ 46.2-868(B) as a result of the accident. Code §
46.2-868(B) provides that
[e]very person convicted of reckless driving under the
provisions of this article who, when he committed the
offense, (i) was driving without a valid operator's
license due to a suspension or revocation for a moving
violation and, (ii) as the sole and proximate result of his
reckless driving, caused the death of another, is guilty of a
Class 6 felony.
stipulated at trial that falling asleep while driving was
reckless driving and that his driver's license had been
revoked previously for a moving violation. Appellant argued
that the evidence did not establish that the victim's
death was "the sole and proximate result" of
appellant's driving. Appellant asserted the victim died,
at least in part, because he was not wearing a seat belt and
was ejected from the vehicle.
the Commonwealth rested, appellant made a motion to strike
the evidence as to the reckless driving that led to the death
of the victim. Comparing Code § 46.2-868(B) to the
elements of various involuntary manslaughter statutes, which
reference only "cause" and do not contain the
phrase "sole and proximate result" or "sole
cause, " appellant argued that the Commonwealth had not
shown that the victim's death was the "sole and
proximate result" of his reckless driving.
response, the trial court stated, "I think that there is
a distinct difference between whether it is proximate
causation, which is what the manslaughter statute uses and
which is the focus, generally, in personal injury cases, as
opposed to the reckless driving statute which refers to it as
the sole and proximate result." The trial court
I cannot conclude that his failure to wear the seatbelt or
his wearing of a seatbelt, particularly based on the evidence
before the Court that the other unbelted passenger survived,
that that was a sole and proximate result. In fact, it does
appear to the Court that had it not been for the Defendant
falling asleep, going off the side of the road, and then the
vehicle not only flipping but flipping end over end three
times, the Court concludes at this juncture that [the
victim's death] is the sole and proximate result [of the
reckless driving] . . . .
did not present evidence and then renewed his motion to
strike. In finding appellant guilty, the court stated,
"I don't have much difficulty with the conclusion
that [the] sole and proximate cause [of death] was the
reckless driving of the [d]efendant."
appeal followed with appellant arguing that the plain
language of Code § 46.2-868(B) requires the Commonwealth
to prove that the victim's death was the "sole and
proximate result" of appellant's reckless driving
and that the evidence was insufficient to establish that
Standard of Review
arguing that the trial court misinterpreted the requirements
of Code § 46.2-868(B), appellant presents a question of
statutory interpretation that we review de novo.
Conyers v. Martial Arts World of Richmond, Inc., 273
Va. 96, 104, 639 S.E.2d 174, 178 (2007) (citations omitted).
However, in conducting our review, "the factual findings
of the circuit court are not to be disturbed unless they are
plainly wrong or ...