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Teen Charged: Aggravated Involuntary Manslaughter

In the early evening of Sept. 20, a 17-year-old Westfield High student was at her school’s football game against rival Chantilly High and all was well.

BUT BEFORE the night ended, say authorities, she got behind the wheel of an SUV with her driving abilities impaired, drove into Loudoun County and was involved in a fiery, head-on collision that took the life of a 59-year-old Leesburg woman.

Now, the schoolgirl – whose name is not being revealed since she’s a minor – has a lot more to worry about than grades and homework; she’s just been charged with aggravated involuntary manslaughter.

The "aggravated" on that charge means, if convicted, she could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, instead of 10. Legally, aggravated involuntary manslaughter means "conduct so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life."

The tragedy occurred at 9:25 p.m. on Route 15 – a road with two lanes on each side, separated by a double yellow line. According to Virginia State Police Sgt. Terry Licklider, the teen-ager was driving north on Route 15 in a 2005 Ford Escape, and the victim was coming the other way.

“Witnesses said the girl swerved into the southbound lanes and hit a 2000 Chrysler minivan driven by Kathleen Becker,” he said. “It was a head-on crash. The girl wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and she was thrown out of her vehicle when her driver’s-side door came open. She lived, but her vehicle caught on fire.”

She was then Medivaced to Inova Fairfax Hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises. However, the Leesburg woman died at the scene. Licklider said she was wearing a seatbelt, but her injuries were too severe.

Becker had a husband, a grown daughter and a disabled son for whom she was the primary caregiver. At the time of the collision, said Licklider, “She was coming from choir practice at her church.”

The crash happened at the intersection of Harmony Church Road and Route 15, just outside of Leesburg, and Licklider said the speed limit there is 55 mph. But, he added, “The accident report indicates [the teen] was doing between 70-80 mph.”

He said the responding state trooper charged the girl with DUI. And last Tuesday, Sept. 25, the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office charged her with aggravated involuntary manslaughter.

She’s been charged as a juvenile, but Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman filed a "notice of intent" that she be tried as an adult. If that happens, the case against her will be tried in that county’s Circuit Court and she'll face much stiffer penalties than she would as a juvenile.