Just a day before the summertime collision that killed a mother and daughter on U.S. 29 in Albemarle County, reckless driving suspect Cody Viro Holliday was arrested for going nearly 30 mph over the speed limit on this same highway.
Holliday was found guilty of reckless driving on Nov. 15 over that first incident, but a potentially more serious prosecution is now scheduled for late March when he will face an Albemarle County judge over the Aug. 23 crash that claimed the lives of Trena Renae Davis Miller and her mother Janie Lee Davis.
"To get a speeding ticket one day and then to be driving in a way to take two lives the next day is really bad," legal analyst Scott Goodman told The Daily Progress. "If the commonwealth’s attorney brings that to the court’s attention, that will be an aggravating factor for the sentence if he’s convicted."
A conviction, however, is far from certain in the fatal wreck, Goodman noted. He said that because the car that Holliday hit emerged from behind a stop sign, its driver had a duty to ensure that the roadway was clear before proceeding across the highway.
"It is unknown if the crash was caused due to driver error, as the driver was unable to make a statement," one of the investigating officers, Kate Kane, wrote in the immediate aftermath.
Kane’s report did not identify the driver of the 2020 Kia Sportage or the nature of that person’s wounds, but Kane indicated that the driver and the front seat passenger were injured and taken to University of Virginia Medical Center.
Pronounced dead at the scene of the pre-dawn crash were the 49-year-old Miller and her 74-year-old mother Davis.
The two women hailed from Pittsylvania County, about halfway between Danville and Lynchburg. They were passengers in the rear of the Kia, according to Albemarle County police.
"Officers responded to a report of a two-vehicle crash on Route 29 near Red Hill Road at around 5:22 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 23," the police wrote in a statement.
A police sketch shows how the Kia had emerged from the eastern side of the highway on Red Hill Road and was attempting to cross the northbound lanes of Route 29 when it was struck broadside by the northbound Holliday. Not shown by the sketch is the fact that the intersection lies near the middle of a nearly 90-degree bend in the highway.
Social media posts about Miller portray her as a proud mother and grandmother, a member of the Gretna High School Class of 1992, and a woman of faith.
"God is like oxygen," Miller once posted on Facebook. "You can’t see him, but you need him to survive."
As for Holliday, he was 30, living in Amherst County and working for an Amherst-based logging company at the time of the incident, Thurston Wheeler Logging.
A topic likely to be raised at trial is a statement that Holliday allegedly made about his pre-crash speed. Holliday said he’d been going 65 mph, according to a report by officer D.B. Huffman.
Huffman noted that the driver’s admission puts him not only above the posted speed limit of 60 but well above the recommended safe speed of 45. The safe speed, Huffman said, was indicated both by a yellow sign warning of an intersection at an impending curve and by a set of flashing yellow lights.
Data obtained from electronic components inside the two vehicles give some indication of the way they were driven that morning in the community of North Garden.
"It was found that the Kia had stopped prior to crossing the roadway and that the Chevrolet pickup had been speeding prior to the crash," Huffman wrote.
According to the legal analyst, a speeder forfeits the right of way.
"He had the right of way, but the women had the right to believe that he was going the speed limit," said Goodman.
Officer Huffman appears to be building a case based on this concept, particularly after he obtained data from the truck’s airbag control module suggesting that Holliday downplayed the speed of the vehicle.
"It had been traveling a steady 75 mph from 5.0 seconds prior to the crash until it began braking at about 2.0 seconds prior to the crash," Huffman wrote.
A witness driving behind the truck allegedly saw it swerve to the left in a vain attempt to avoid the collision. Despite the speed, Holliday was allegedly not wearing a seatbelt.
The pickup was a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 with a toolbox bed and dual tires on its rear axle, according to Huffman’s report. Specifications for that model truck show that it weighed 7,239 pounds while the Kia weighed just 3,305 pounds.
Vehicle size was just one of the factors Huffman cited when, a month after the crash, he obtained a reckless driving arrest warrant.
"Driving 30 mph over the recommended safe speed and 15 over the speed limit in a curve, approaching an intersection, in the dark, while driving a large vehicle is reckless driving," Huffman asserted in his criminal complaint.
Because the Sept. 21 arrest came in the form of a "permitted" warrant, Holliday was able to receive a summons and thereby avoid handcuffs, a mugshot and a trip to the local jail. If convicted, however, he could face a maximum penalty of 12 months behind bars.
In another local reckless driving case decided two weeks before Holliday’s crash, a driver received a three-month jail sentence for killing a father and son by running a red light at the interchange between Route 29 and Interstate 64.
Holliday’s trial was slated for mid-December, but his defense team sought an extension after his Nov. 15 reckless driving conviction in Nelson County. That guilty verdict for driving 89 in a 60 mph zone on Aug. 22 brought a $250 fine and $104 in court costs, but it can’t be used against him in Albemarle unless he’s convicted.
"It’s just too prejudicial," said Goodman, the legal analyst, who is a veteran criminal defense attorney. "In any case, you can’t bring in other bad acts unless it tends to show the identity of a person."
Goodman said that the evidence in the double fatality driving case will stick to what happened that morning in North Garden.
"It’s not a slam-dunk case," said Goodman. "There is a lot for the judge to consider."
Goodman said that a judge weighing evidence in the Albemarle County General District Court might render a more lenient decision than what Holliday received in Nelson.
"It could just be speeding," said Goodman. "Seventy-five, that’s not an outrageous speed, especially with no other traffic around."
However, other facts, Goodman noted, could lead to a harsher verdict.
"Disregarding that cautionary sign, that’s a factor," he said.
And if Holliday is convicted, Goodman said, the Albemarle judge will certainly consider the Nelson conviction in assigning punishment.
Holliday’s trial is now set for March 29.