7 Months Jail for Felony Hit and Run

7 Months Jail for Felony Hit and Run

Impact of hit-and-run crash severed West Virginia man's arm.

In April, a Fairfax resident struck a pedestrian with his car, severing the man's left arm, and drove away. Friday afternoon, the driver was sentenced to seven months in jail.

But first, the victim, Michael Pinkerton, 32, of Barboursville, W.Va., took the stand. In a voice filled with emotion, he told the defendant, Edward Sliter, how this incident has affected him.

"It's impacted every aspect of my life — this accident, this crime," said Pinkerton. "I have two small children, 2 and 4, and when they get older, it's possible that they may not have a memory of their father with two arms."

Addressing Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Jonathan Thacher, Pinkerton said he wore a short-sleeved shirt to court so the judge could see the physical result of Sliter's actions. Then Pinkerton's wife cried softly in the front row of the courtroom as she heard her husband say, "I'll never again be able to put my arms around my wife or my kids."

"I had dreams of being a good parent — playing with my kids and teaching them to play ball," he said. "I used to be able to fix things around the house — now I need assistance to get dressed."

The incident occurred April 24, around 3:30 a.m. Edward Sliter, 21, of 12100 block of Goodwood Drive in the Fairfax area, was driving home after hanging out with friends. Meanwhile, Pinkerton was walking east on Route 29, approaching West Ox Road in Fairfax.

As the marketing director for an all-terrain-vehicle trail system in southern West Virginia, Pinkerton was in Virginia attending an outdoor-recreation trade show at the Dulles Expo Center. He was walking back to the hotel where he was staying, but being unfamiliar with the area, he got lost and couldn't find it.

Then Sliter, traveling east on Route 29, struck Pinkerton with his car. The impact severed Pinkerton's arm. Sliter kept going, but a passing motorist saw the injured man, immediately called 911, and stayed with him until emergency personnel arrived. Pinkerton was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

"It's unfathomable to me how a human can have such disregard for another's life," said Pinkerton in court. "I was hit, I was left — I was lying there, bleeding, by the side of the road."

AFTER THE incident, police looked for an older-model, Oldsmobile Cutlass Cierra with minor front-end damage and possible passenger-side damage to the windshield and side-view mirror. The car also had a missing radio antenna.

Two days later, police developed information leading them to Sliter's home — less than a mile from the scene of the accident. There they found a 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass with damage consistent with the accident. Sliter surrendered to police that day, April 26. The grand jury indicted him on July 19, and on Sept. 8 in Circuit Court, he pleaded guilty.

Sliter returned Friday for sentencing and listened while Pinkerton described the horrors he went through, the night of the accident. After Sliter's vehicle struck him, he said, "the defendant went home to seek guidance from his parents. But he didn't tell them to call 911. And then he came back to the scene and, again, left."

Pinkerton said he lost two-thirds of the blood in his body, and when he woke up in the hospital, he was very angry to find out that his arm was gone. "I laid in the hospital for four days, and there was no call from the defendant saying, 'I'm sorry,'" he said. "Even now, six months later, there's been nothing until yesterday, when I received a letter from him, the day before his sentencing. The defendant and his parents had six months to say, 'I'm sorry I almost killed you.'"

Still, Pinkerton said he has no anger toward Sliter — only a "deep sadness." But, he added, "I do have anger for his parents. And it's taught me to teach my children to take responsibility for their actions so that — if, God forbid, something like this ever happened to them — they'd know enough to do the right thing."

Then a psychiatrist who'd diagnosed Sliter with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in January 2002 — and has been treating him for it ever since — testified on his behalf. Describing it as an anxiety disorder, she said people with OCD have thoughts and behaviors that aren't normal. "But they can't stop them; they feel compelled to do these things," she said.

Part of Sliter's disorder, said Dr. Ruth Imershein, is that, when he drives, "He always thinks he's hit something. Then he thinks, 'No, it's just part of my OCD.'" She said he has both these thoughts, over and over, but "he's been trained to try to ignore these obsessive-compulsive thoughts."

AS A RESULT, Imershein said, "Even if he saw the broken glass and the damage to his car, Edward would have thought, 'The accident didn't really happen,' and he'd need to confirm it. No punishment that the court orders will punish Edward as much as the realization that his worst fear has come true."

Defense attorney John Carroll said the state sentencing guidelines recommend one day to six months in jail, and the psychiatrist said Sliter could become "depressed or psychotic" because of the incarceration and because he's afraid to be away from his family.

"You're not suggesting he couldn't make choices?" asked Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Julie Mitchell. "No," said Imershein, adding that Sliter was always concerned about driving and often had his parents and girlfriend bring him to appointments with her.

Judge Thacher then questioned the psychiatrist. "You've advised [Sliter] not to stop if he thought he hit something?" he asked.

"Yes," Imershein said.

"Even with a crushed windshield and a car seat full of glass?" asked Thacher. "Didn't you realize it was contrary to the laws of the commonwealth?"

This time, the psychiatrist said, "No."

"Doesn't your oath [as a doctor] say, 'Do no harm?'" asked the judge. "And isn't leaving an individual with his arm ripped off above the elbow doing harm?"

"I don't think Edward realized he hit someone," Imershein said.

Mitchell said no one knows if Pinkerton's arm could have been reattached if Sliter hadn't left the scene and had gotten help earlier. "The defendant took precautions to cover up the evidence, the next day, in his garage," she said. "And I think explanations about his OCD, and instructions from his psychiatrist, only go so far. The probation officer said his actions that night showed a reckless disregard for the victim, and I agree."

NOTING HOW dark it was, in the middle of the night on Route 29, Mitchell said, "The victim's arm was severed, his skull was fractured, he was left for dead. He might have even been hit by another car while he was lying in the road. Thank God, someone else came along and helped him."

Mitchell said Sliter "had to have felt" the forcible impact of the collision and, with a shattered front windshield and glass on the seat next to him, had "objective manifestations that something terrible happened." She said people have a duty to help others — "especially when they had a role in causing their injuries. And to abandon [the victim] is the ultimate insult added to the injury." Calling Sliter's actions that night "reprehensible," she said the case absolutely warranted incarceration.

Carroll said his client's OCD doesn't make him any less culpable. But, he added, "Afterward, he was hysterical. And when he returned and saw rescue workers, in his mind he saw that help was being rendered [so he didn't need to do anything]."

Still, said Carroll, "His duty was to render aid ... and this is ever-present in his mind, every day. This is a terrible tragedy. The question today is what can we do, in terms of punishment, to balance all the interests?"

Then Sliter stood and, crying, repeated, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." But Thacher found it difficult to believe that Sliter didn't know he'd hit something. "Stopping and rendering aid is part of the decency of common society," said the judge. "And going back again and not stopping defies description and exacerbates what you did."

Stressing the life changes Pinkerton has undergone because of his actions, Thacher told Sliter, "Your time in the legal system will eventually end, but he will never wake up and have his arm back. What happened was bad enough, but this could have been a vehicular homicide."

Thacher then sentenced Sliter to four years in prison, suspending all but seven months, placed him on three years’ active probation and revoked his driver's license for a year.

Afterward, outside the courtroom, Pinkerton's sister Kim said the sentence was fair, but Sliter's mother should have been punished, too. Agreeing, Pinkerton's mother, Loretta, said, "We're not out for revenge. He's a kid — it's his parents that we blame."

Pinkerton himself was satisfied with the outcome. "The judge did what he felt was best," he said. "For me, personally, it didn't matter [what Sliter's sentence was] because it's never going to bring my arm back. But someday, when my children ask me, 'What happened to the guy who hit you?' they'll know he didn't go unpunished. I feel very fortunate to have the great support group around me that I have. It's what got me through this."