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Charges dropped against motorist who struck, killed pedestrian in Albemarle County

The criminal case against a motorist who struck and killed a pedestrian on Rio Road in northern Albemarle County has ended after nearly two years.

An Albemarle prosecutor moved April 9 to drop the misdemeanor careless driving charge against 29-year-old Warren Lee Thurston.

“It would be unjust to pursue this case against Mr. Thurston with the evidence we have at this time,” said Ray Szwabowski, the assistant commonwealth’s attorney who made the motion to dismiss the charge.

Szwabowski told the Albemarle County General District Court about the events that transpired shortly after 9 p.m. on June 19, 2022, after Thurston drove out of the Walmart parking lot off U.S. 29.

Szwabowski said Thurston traveled south down U.S. 29 and took the exit ramp to make a left turn onto Rio Road East. The prosecutor said he then headed toward a green light at the intersection that connects two shopping centers, Fashion Square and Albemarle Square.

“Mr. Thurston was not under the influence, and there was no evidence he was distracted by his phone,” said Szwabowski. “Nothing about Mr. Thurston’s driving was fast or erratic.”

Around that time, 70-year-old Scott Kennedy Rooth stepped off the curb in an attempt to walk across the road, which maps show to be seven lanes wide at that point.

“He’s not moving very fast,” said Szwabowski.

“Who was exactly where and for how long?” asked Szwabowski. “We do not currently have any eyewitnesses who can tell with certainty.”

Szwabowski praised Thurston for his post-crash openness but indicated that openness included perplexing information.

In his written report, Albemarle police officer J.H. Morris noted that Thurston revealed that he had a spectrum disorder that forced him to constantly shift his focus while driving.

Thurston told the officer that he had an earbud in one ear to listen to a video, but he was adamant that he was not attempting to look at the video. The admissions prodded the prosecutor to seek additional information.

“The commonwealth still had some public safety concerns,” said Szwabowski. “So the commonwealth asked Mr. Thurston to submit to a medical review.”

Szwabowski said that review cleared Thurston to continue driving without any restriction by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Morris, the officer, was present in court and expressed no dismay at the decision to stop the prosecution against Thurston, and Judge Matthew Quatrara said he was glad to learn that Rooth’s family was consulted.

The Daily Progress reached out to Rooth’s family, who declined to comment.

“This is indeed a sobering case,” said the judge.

Outside the courtroom, Thurston said that he has become a more vigilant driver and that he’s haunted by what happened.

“I am extremely sorry, and I wish I could have gone any other way that night,” he told The Daily Progress.


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