Judge dismisses involuntary manslaughter charge in Floyd County pedestrian death case

Jan - 28
2018

Judge dismisses involuntary manslaughter charge in Floyd County pedestrian death case

FLOYD — It was a tragic accident. One for which Chance Bihary took full responsibility.

But Bihary’s deadly mistake almost a year ago was not a criminal one, a judge found Tuesday in Floyd County Circuit Court.

Judge Marc Long dismissed a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter brought against Bihary, 20, after a pedestrian was struck by a truck he was driving — killing her.

The victim, Monty Simmons Leitch — a writer and former columnist at The Roanoke Times — died less than a week after she was hit by the Chevrolet K-1500 pickup truck Bihary was driving just before noon on Dec. 9, 2016, while she crossing the intersection of Virginia 8 and Main Street 9 (U.S. 221) in downtown Floyd.

The victim, Monty Simmons Leitch — a writer and former columnist at The Roanoke Times — died less than a week after she was hit by the Chevrolet K-1500 pickup truck Bihary was driving just before noon on Dec. 9, 2016, while she crossing the intersection of Virginia 8 and Main Street 9 (U.S. 221) in downtown Floyd.

Jonathan Rogers, Bihary’s attorney, successfully argued that the then 19-year-old driver was responsible for the accident, but not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“There was not cruelty or callousness in this case,” Rogers said. “There was no reckless speed or impairment. He simply did not see what he should have seen.”

Multiple witnesses called to testify in Bihary’s bench trial Tuesday confirmed they saw his truck stopped at a stoplight northbound on Virginia 8 moments before the incident. The truck was attempting to make a left-hand turn onto Main Street when it struck Leitch.

Leitch, 66, was propelled through the air a short distance before landing near the curb. A medical examiner determined her cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head, according to documents submitted to the court.

“Her body bent almost like a wet noodle,” said James Shortt, a lawyer in Floyd who testified that he watched the scene unfold outside the county courthouse that day.

Bihary immediately stopped and got out of his truck after hitting Leitch, multiple witnesses said. At that point, he was confronted by Shortt.

“I told him he was driving like a god— – idiot,” Shortt testified.

Valarie Mills, who was driving her minivan directly behind Bihary before he struck Leitch, said she exited her vehicle to aid Leitch and described Bihary as “sobbing and scared.”

“He kept asking what he can do to help,” testified Julie Ann Puuri, another driver stopped at the opposite side of West Main Street at the time of the accident. “I hit the horn to alert [Bihary] but I missed.”

County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom centered his prosecution on the reputation of the pedestrian and vehicle traffic at and around the small town’s only stoplight.

“We are beyond gross negligence here,” Branscom said in his closing remarks. “It’s known to be a very busy intersection.”

While questioning the Virginia state trooper who responded to the accident scene, Branscom called to the court’s attention a recording of Bihary speaking to his mother while inside the trooper’s patrol car.

“I know I looked, because I almost did that one time before, so I looked,” Bihary said on the recording.

“It is reasonable to infer that he knew about that intersection,” Branscom contended.

But Long ruled otherwise.

“I do not see anything in the evidence that suggests [that intersection] is dangerous,” Long said.

“This is a terrible, terrible accident. Simply because a life is taken it does not rise to the level of criminal negligence.”

Source – The Roanoke Times

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