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Fatal chase trial slated for today

June 17, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A trial is expected to begin today for a Gerrardstown man charged in a high-speed police chase last November that claimed the life of an Inwood woman and triggered tougher penalties for motorists who lead police on chases.

Robert Lee Sparkman Jr., 28, was charged with driving under the influence resulting in death, a felony that carries up to 10 years in jail.

Amanda Marie Smailes, 21, was killed Nov. 24 when her car was rammed from behind on U.S. 11 in Darkesville by another car being chased by police at speeds of up to 100 mph.

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Two film producers from the television show "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" were riding with Trooper Kevin Plumer when he became involved in the 12-mile chase on U.S. 11.

The footage filmed by the television crew, which was never aired, is expected to be played to the jury as early as today by Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Sparkman's trial is expected to last two or three days, Games-Neely said.

The pursuit began about 1 a.m. when Plumer saw a car swerving off the shoulder of U.S. 11 near Inwood, police said. Plumer tried to pull the car over, but it fled at high speed, police said.

The chase continued to the intersection of U.S. 11, W.Va. 9 and W.Va. 45 near Martinsburg, where the driver attempted to make a left turn onto W.Va. 45 but lost control, spun around in the intersection and collided with Plumer's cruiser, police said.

The pursuit continued in the opposite direction on U.S. 11 toward Darkesville. The car hit Smailes' vehicle near Smiley's Inn in Darkesville, police said.

Under a new law passed by the state legislature this year, anyone who leads police on a chase that results in the death of another person could face up to 15 years in prison.

Police are also using new car disabling devices, known as "road spikes," which can be placed in the road ahead of fleeing vehicles to puncture the tires on the cars.

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