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Driver guilty in woman’s death

Ruling that double jeopardy was not at issue, a judge found Orlando Cruz guilty Wednesday of both felony homicide and aggravated involuntary manslaughter in the September 2012 vehicular death of an expectant mother.

Culpeper Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock also convicted Cruz, 37, of driving while under the influence of alcohol, malicious wounding, using an invalid inspection sticker, having no operator’s license and felony destruction of property in the wreck that killed 20-year-old Zulma Alvarez.

That final charge was the one that Whitlock cited in ruling against double jeopardy.

“The prosecution proved that Mr. Cruz was engaged in the act of felony destruction of private property when his Jeep Cherokee crossed the center line and struck Zulma Alvarez’s minivan head-on,” Whitlock said.

This, she contended, was the fact needed to prove felony homicide, which she said was separate from vehicular manslaughter under Virginia law.

Defense attorney Paul Walla argued that felony homicide and vehicular manslaughter were essentially the same charge and a conviction on both constituted double jeopardy.

Alvarez, who was nine months pregnant when the crash occurred, was pronounced dead less than two hours after her vehicle was struck. Her baby was delivered stillborn by Caesarean section prior to the mother’s death.

Charges in the infant’s death were dropped before the Oct. 29, 2013, trial began.

Witnesses in the four-day trial told how Cruz was driving erratically north along Culpeper’s Main Street and almost wrecked several times.

One witness, Michelle White, said she called 911 and then followed Cruz with a dispatcher remaining on the line. She testified that she came upon the wreck about a tenth of a mile down State Route 729.

A blood test at the University of Virginia Medical Center determined that Cruz’s blood alcohol content almost two hours after the crash was .26, more than three times the legal limit.

Whitlock set sentencing for Cruz, an undocumented Salvadoran immigrant, for May 29. He faces the possibility of more than 70 years in prison, including up to 40 years on the felony homicide conviction.

“This is a great victory against the crime of DUI,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Frederick, who helped Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Barredo prosecute Cruz.

“This sends a clear message that this commonwealth’s attorney will not take [that crime] lightly. I will stand firm.”

Donnie Johnston:

djohnston@freelancestar.com

 

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