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Sparkman guilty, gets 1-10 years

June 18, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Berkeley County jury found Robert Lee Sparkman Jr. guilty Wednesday of driving under the influence with reckless disregard for others, causing the death of an Inwood, W.Va., woman.

Circuit Court Judge David Sanders sentenced Sparkman to from one to 10 years in jail for the offense.

Before he was sentenced, Sparkman apologized, saying "I'm sorry."

Sparkman faced Sanders when he spoke, and did not turn around to spectators who had packed the courtroom for the last two days of the trial.

John Smailes, whose 21-year-old daughter Amanda Marie Smailes was killed in the pursuit, said he appreciated Sparkman's apology. But Smailes said his family will never escape the suffering caused by the loss of his daughter.

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Amanda Smailes was on her way home from her job at the Wal-Mart store in Martinsburg on Nov. 24, 1996, when her car was rammed from behind by a car that was being chased by West Virginia State Police.

Smailes was described as a "model" student who dreamed of caring for the elderly after graduating from Shepherd College's nursing program.

"It's the hurt of all hurts. He gets one to 10. We get life," said John Smailes.

Sparkman, 28, of Gerrardstown, W.Va., was taken to the Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg after the trial. He may be considered for parole in about a year, said Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

Sparkman was convicted after defense attorney Aaron Amore's case hit a serious snag.

Amore had hoped he would be able to present evidence showing that the West Virginia State Police acted recklessly, which led to the accident. To help make his case, Amore wanted to use a state law that sets standards for how police conduct themselves.

But Sanders ruled the law could be applied only in a civil case, not a criminal one.

The trial largely revolved around a videotape of the chase, which was filmed by a camera crew from the "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" television show.

Two cameramen from the TV show filmed the pursuit from inside Trooper Kevin Plumer's cruiser as it reached speeds of up to 107 mph on U.S. 11 in Berkeley County. Plumer was attempting to pull over a motorist who was driving erratically on the highway, according to testimony.

The chase went from Inwood, W.Va., to the intersection of W.Va. 9, U.S. 11 and W.Va. 45 in Martinsburg, where the suspect's Nissan 200 SX collided with Plumer's cruiser, then continued back on U.S. 11 to Darkesville.

Plumer testified Tuesday that he was frustrated when he was chasing the vehicle, and the reason he could be hearing saying "die mother------" on the videotape was because he wanted the pursuit to be over.

Police believe the suspect's car may have been traveling at 100 mph when it struck Smailes' Ford Escort near Smiley's Inn in Darkesville.

The videotape shows Plumer stepping out of his cruiser into a tense scene in which rescue officials are rushing to the scene.

"I killed that girl. I killed her ---damn it," Plumer said on the videotape.

"That girl's dead man," a voice on tape says.

"Relax, relax," said another person at the scene.

Friends and family members of Amanda Smailes cried Wednesday as the videotape was played a second time.

The high-profile case triggered tougher penalties for motorists who lead police on chases. Under a new law passed by the 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.

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