Albemarle County resident Angela Kathleen Johnson may have wanted to avoid a repeat of the drunk driving incident that led to a manslaughter conviction 22 years ago in York County. Unfortunately, she got drunk again last summer, climbed into a car and once again forever changed someone’s life.
The former Belk department store employee admitted in court on Tuesday that she drove her Lexus the wrong way on the U.S. Route 250 Bypass last summer and severely injured a local woman heading home from her shift at the Wawa market on Pantops.
Inside Charlottesville Circuit Court, the now 50-year-old Johnson, handcuffed, waist-chained and wearing a red jail jumpsuit spoke softly as she pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and to vehicular maiming.
"She caused a very serious accident, and she’s extremely remorseful," her attorney, Scott Goodman, told The Daily Progress outside of court after his client’s guilty plea.
Judge Claude Worrell listened to prosecutor Natalia Heguaburo narrate the facts of the case.
Kristie Howard’s life was changed forever after her shift at Wawa ended at 3 a.m. in the early morning hours of Aug. 27, Heguaburo said.
The prosecutor said that Howard clocked out, cleaned up and climbed into her black Nissan to make the five-minute drive home.
"She got on the 250 Bypass heading westbound like she normally did," said Heguaburo, "except this time Ms. Howard didn’t make it home."
The last thing Howard recalled before waking up in a hospital bed, as she later told investigators, was the sight of headlights coming toward her and the sound of breaking glass.
Johnson had been drinking that night, Heguaburo said, including getting a final drink at the home of her friend Maria Cox in Mallside Forest Court, an apartment complex near Fashion Square shopping mall.
Howard was severely injured, according to the prosecutor: 18 broken ribs, a broken sternum, two back fractures, four skull fractures, a lacerated liver, chronic dizziness and a swollen ankle.
"And I lost a little bit of taste of my tongue, because I guess I bit that," Howard testified at a preliminary hearing in November. She was not present for Tuesday’s hearing.
A witness saw Johnson stumble out of the driver’s seat of her sedan, said the prosecutor, while a dog inside her car was suffering from broken legs.
"Did I do all this?" Johnson repeatedly asked witnesses at the scene near the highway ramp to Watson Avenue, where she had apparently crossed the center median and hit Howard’s vehicle.
"Did I do this?" Johnson asked again, according to the prosecutor’s narrative.
In court on Tuesday, Johnson’s face registered pain when the prosecutor carried four photographs from the scene to the defense table.
Johnson admitted to drinking, the prosecutor said, while refusing to participate in a field sobriety test at the crash site. Later, in the presence of a magistrate, Johnson, said, "They’re gonna kill me for my priors,” according to the prosecutor.
Virginia court records show that in 2011, Johnson, then with a Reedville address, was found guilty of felony driving on a license revoked for prior DUI convictions.
What happened on Interstate 64 nearly 23 years ago was more serious.
According to a contemporary newspaper account, backed by York County records, Johnson was heading back to the Norfolk area from a two-family visit to Richmond on the morning of Aug. 8, 2000, when she lost control of the SUV she was driving. A 9-year-old boy, Kaseem Christopher Woodhouse-Faulks, the son of a friend, was ejected and died. Johnson registered a 0.13 blood-alcohol level and pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2001.
"I miss my son," the boy’s father said amid sobs as he held up photographs of his son from the witness stand, according to Daily Press coverage of the court case.
"I don’t understand how the drunk driver never gets hurt," the grieving dad testified. "They always live to tell the story."
In that case, Johnson had three children in her car, including one of her own and two belonging to her friend.
Her then-defense attorney said she wasn’t a malicious person, she simply fell asleep, woke up and overcorrected the vehicle.
Since her most recent arrest, Johnson has been held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Heguaburo, a third-year University of Virginia law student, laid the groundwork for further incarceration.
"Because of the defendant’s decision to get behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol concentration of .19, the victim, Ms. Howard, has since been unable to work, must walk with a cane, gets dizzy often, suffers from chest problems and swelling and is unable to do things she used to regularly do, like get on a plane to visit her family or regularly leave her home with ease," Heguaburo said.
In court, Goodman acknowledged the commonwealth’s case against Johnson but noted that Johnson had immediately admitted to drinking, asked after the condition of the victim at the scene and has been "completely cooperative."
The plea agreement that Johnson signed would cap her punishment – which could have been as high as a 15 years in prison – at six years and eight months.
Worrell said that he would accept the plea, ordered a presentence report and called the parties back to court on April 25 for sentencing.
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