June 23, 2023
Accomack County Circuit Court C

By Linda Cicoira

A judge accepted a plea agreement and pronounced sentences Thursday in Accomack Circuit Court and then moments later took it all back.

It was the case of a Painter area man, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and DUI. As the case was winding up, it was learned that the family of victim wanted the opportunity to testify about their loss.

So, retired Judge Les Lilley rescinded his acceptance and the terms for punishment, held on to his convictions for the charges and continued the matter until July 6, when victim impact statements can be made verbally, if the family of 19-year-old Julio Meneses Vazquez so desires.

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Meanwhile, the defendant, 33-year-old John Higgins O’Brien III, of Curratuck Road in Painter, who was about to surrender to serve a 12-month sentence, was ordered to hand over his driver’s license and was allowed to remain free on bond.

The plea deal with Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan, called for O’Brien to be sentenced to a five-year suspended term for manslaughter and 12 months in jail for DUI.

Morgan explained that he proposed the agreement because there was a question about the chain of custody for O’Brien’s blood test, which showed him at an alcohol level of .19, when the legal limit is .08.

The test was not taken at the scene of the January 2022 collision. O’Brien was rushed to the nearby hospital and then quickly transferred to a Norfolk facility because of his serious condition. The trooper had to track down vials of blood that were taken at the second hospital, which may have been disputed at a jury trial, Morgan said.

Defense lawyer Steven Pfeffier said there was also no proof that the crash, on Savageville Road near Onancock, was a head-on collision.

Both vehicles were older models and did not have data to show if the drivers have veered from their lanes.

A report stated O’Brien was driving north in a 1988 Chevrolet Silverado when he collided with the victim’s 2010 Ford Focus, which was going south. Vazquez, of Market Street in Onancock, died on impact.

The maximum term for the offenses is 11 years and a $5,000 fine.

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      Judge Lilley wanted to give the family ever opportunity for closure. “I know it is a horrible situation,” he said.

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