Quentin J. Jones' only defense to the charge that he drove so recklessly that he crashed a vehicle and killed a Chantilly man was that the police were mistaken. He was in the back seat, he said — even though an officer found him behind the wheel, seconds after the crash.
But the authorities didn't buy it, and neither did the jury trying him this week for aggravated involuntary manslaughter and three other related charges. After a three-day trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court, the members completed their deliberations late Wednesday afternoon and found him guilty on all counts. They also recommended he receive the maximum sentence: 36 years in prison.
The tragedy occurred Nov. 22, 2003, and the victim was Soo Chang Yang, 40, of Centreville's Belle Pond Farm community. He'd recently moved here from California and was employed as a grocery-store clerk.
In his opening statement to the five men and seven women, plus Judge Kathleen MacKay, Monday morning in Circuit Court, defense attorney Garland Stith said the prosecution had made a "bad mistake" in this case. "My client was in the back seat and wasn't driving," he said. "[He's] been wrongly accused. He was drinking in the back of the car, but wasn't operating the motor vehicle."
Stith further stated that the man whom police found in the passenger seat of the car, Luis Martinez, was actually driving and had gotten permission from the car's owner, a Mr. Torres, to drive the car.
However, later that afternoon, Torres took the stand and testified that he didn't know Luis Martinez and hadn't given permission for anyone to drive his car. Torres lives in Manassas, and the car Jones was driving — a 1993 Dodge Shadow — had been stolen from him.
In her opening statement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Adriana Eberle said Jones, then 24, was speeding that night, blowing through red lights in congested areas, improperly changing lanes and driving recklessly while trying to elude the police who were following him. After the jury heard all the evidence, she said, "I'll ask that you find him guilty of all four charges."
VIRGINIA STATE Trooper Joshua Korson was the first to testify Monday, describing how, on Nov. 22, he tried to pull over a speeding motorist in a turquoise 1993 Dodge Shadow. He was doing radar checks around 9 p.m. when he clocked Jones at 82 mph at the intersection of I-66 east and the Fairfax County Parkway crossover.
Korson then gave pursuit, with his cruiser's blue lights and siren activated. "What I thought would be a routine traffic stop ended in a fatality," he said.
"[Jones] crossed all lanes of traffic and got off at Route 50 east," he said. "He went through stopped traffic at Waples Mill [Road] and went through a red light without hitting his brakes, at all. He went around stopped traffic, and I radioed [local] police that I was in pursuit of a vehicle. Then he went through a red light at Jermantown [Road]."
At the intersection of Routes 50 and 29 north, Korson said Jones took Route 29 north and passed stopped traffic on the shoulder of the road, going through a red light at Route 29, "doing speeds in excess of 90 mph." He said Jones went through several more red lights and, in Fairfax City, "he made an unsafe lane change" and struck a minivan driven by a woman, but didn't stop.
"He left the scene of the accident and kept going on 29 north," said Korson. "At Fairfax Circle, he went through a red light. Then on Route 50 east — Arlington Boulevard — he ran through more red lights and made unsafe lane changes."
At Allen Street in Falls Church, said Korson, the Dodge ran one more red light — and this one proved fatal to the Chantilly man. Said Korson: "A black Lexus came through the intersection with the green light for Allen Street, and [Jones] struck it broadside." Driving the 2000 Lexus was Yang, who was later pronounced dead at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
"How far away were you when you witnessed the accident?" asked Eberle. "[I was] 100 feet or so [behind]," replied the trooper. "I immediately ran up to the Dodge and found the defendant behind the wheel of the car."
"How much time elapsed between the crash and your getting to that vehicle?" asked Eberle. Answered Korson: "Three to five seconds." He said there was another occupant in the passenger and noted that Jones was "trying to escape — trying to get out of the vehicle. I detected the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage, and he had bloodshot eyes."
HE THEN pointed out Jones in the courtroom, identifying him as the person he'd found behind the wheel of the Dodge that night. Korson said he and a Fairfax County police officer who'd responded to his call for assistance arrested Jones together. Afterward, said Korson, Jones was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries to his hand and foot as a result of the crash and was "very belligerent."
In response to questioning from Stith, the trooper said Yang had pulled out from a service road and, after the crash, Korson ran 10-15 feet to get Jones, of 19013 Queen Drive in Triangle, out of the car he'd been driving.
Police charged Jones with aggravated involuntary manslaughter, felony hit and run, speeding to elude and DUI. Authorities also served him with outstanding warrants alleging domestic assault and unlawful entry. They'd been issued by Fairfax County for suspected prior offenses.
State trooper Kerry Allander also testified. He met with Jones at the hospital that night and said Jones told him he was going to Franconia, but "was unable to tell me how he planned to get home from [there]. He said he wasn't the driver of the car and had told the guy to pull over when the police were chasing him. [Jones] knew he had a warrant out for his arrest, and he was going to run."
Jackeline Mirka Claros Revollos of Alexandria testified that, on Nov. 22, "a car that was getting away from the police struck my car on the right side in the front." She followed it because "I didn't know who was gonna pay me for this." She also saw Jones strike Yang's vehicle and said, "The same car that hit us also hit the other car."
Frederick Moten of Burke also testified. "I was driving down Route 50 east and saw a Dodge pass me, flying, and almost run me off the road," he said. Burke then saw the Dodge "go through the red light and hit another vehicle broadside in the intersection." Lubna Shah also said she witnessed the crash.
Police Officer Jose Arango, who also came to Korson's aid, testified that Jones was behind the wheel of the Dodge and a Hispanic male was the passenger. It was also revealed in court that Jones' blood-alcohol content that night was .16 — twice the legal limit. Sentencing is Dec. 3.