Waterfield found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, guilty of careless driving

March 29, 2024
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By Linda Cicoira

     After deliberating for about an hour and 40 minutes Friday morning, an Accomack Circuit Court jury acquitted an Oak Hall woman of involuntary manslaughter in a crash that killed one pedestrian and injured two others, including a child, last April. 

     The 12-member panel found 36-year-old Jessica Greenley Waterfield guilty of misdemeanor careless driving. Judge Tanya Bullock denied a motion made by defense lawyer Tom Northam to set aside the guilty verdict and ordered a short-form presentence report. A date for sentencing was not set. Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan said it takes about three months for a sentencing report to be completed.

    According to state law, “the court may suspend the driver’s license issued to a person convicted of careless driving and infliction of injury or death on vulnerable road users (such as pedestrians) … for a period of not less than 10 days nor more than six months.”

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     Waterfield told the court she did not know how long she had taken her eyes off the road when she attempted to keep her toddler, who was in the backseat of her vehicle, from choking due to sinus issues. Waterfield had taken one hand off the steering wheel and was trying to push up her three-year-old daughter’s head. “I couldn’t reach her. As I was turning back around, I heard the front end of the car hit something,” Waterfield said.

      Waterfield was struck in the neck by her airbag. She did not know what happened until she got out of the car. She never saw 26-year-old Erika Cherrelle Bailey, Bailey’s boyfriend, 39-year-old Duane Lee Turner, or Bailey’s seven-year-old daughter before she struck them with her 2021 Honda Pilot. Bailey was thrown across Nock’s Landing Road killing her on impact. Turner and the girl suffered serious bodily injuries and landed in the ditch. 

     Turner and Bailey were walking along the roadside. The child was riding her bicycle between them and a ditch.

     Morgan asked the jury to find Waterfield guilty of both charges contending that her negligence caused the death. “This constitutes a gross indifference to human life,” the prosecutor said. “Nothing outside the moving vehicle mattered to her.”

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      Northam argued that criminal negligence had not been proven. He said although Waterfield was speeding, she was not going 20 miles per hour over the limit, which would have constituted reckless driving. “We acknowledge that she turned away momentarily … taking her eyes off the road has happened to anyone. A mother’s instinct does not reach the level of criminal.”

      Northam told the jurors it was an accident. “This defendant didn’t wake up with the intention to hurt anyone.”  

     Evidence from the Honda’s sensors showed Waterfield was going about 55 mph when she struck the pedestrians and that she never used her break or veered off the road. Testimony disclosed it was a clear day and the crash occurred on Nock’s Landing Road, which is straightaway. There was no alcohol or drug use indicated for the driver or the pedestrians.

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April 18, 2024, 8:07 am
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