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W.Va. man, 22, sentenced in fatal crash

February 05, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After haltingly reading a statement of remorse, a man convicted of driving under the influence and causing a wreck that killed a passenger in his car was sentenced Wednesday to serve time at the Anthony Correctional Center rather than prison.

Derek M. O'Donnell, 22, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., will spend six months to two years at the facility, which is for young offenders. He pleaded no contest on Nov. 5, 2003, to one count of DUI causing death.

A no-contest plea means a defendant is not admitting guilt, but is stating he will offer no defense.

O'Donnell cried as he read aloud a written statement to Circuit Court Judge David Sanders.

"I cannot begin to describe how remorseful I am of my past, previous actions," he said. "I'm terribly sorry for all the grief that I have caused."

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He said the Anthony Center will be good for him because professionals there rehabilitate those with addictions. Sitting in prison, he said, would be of no benefit.

"Mitch was a great man and a huge friend," O'Donnell said. "Now I am left with a huge emptiness only I can fill."

Mitchell Beddow, 24, was killed on Nov. 27, 2001, after O'Donnell's 2000 Nissan sedan ran off W.Va. 9 outside Hedgesville, W.Va., crashed through a fence and hit a tree.

O'Donnell suffered a head injury and was flown to a Virginia hospital after the wreck.

Speaking favorably of the Anthony Center, Assistant Prosecutor Betsy Giggenbach said her mother was a nurse there for 10 years. She said the program could greatly benefit O'Donnell and help him become a more productive member of society.

Giggenbach said the White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., facility has a "boot camp"-like atmosphere. Participants must pass a physical exam, obtain their GED if needed and show respect toward the staff, Giggenbach said.

Upon his release from Anthony Center, O'Donnell will serve the remainder of his sentence as probation, Sanders said.

Beddow's mother and grandmother said they believe the Anthony Center is appropriate for O'Donnell.

Colleen Stotler, Beddow's mother, said many people care about O'Donnell and that she hopes he will use the opportunity to do something with his life.

JoAnn Harris, Beddow's grandmother, agreed and thanked O'Donnell for his apology.

After reading the statement, O'Donnell turned around and faced the two women, who were seated in the courtroom audience.

O'Donnell told them that he wishes he could take back what happened that night. He also apologized and said he cannot imagine Beddow's young daughter growing up without her father.

Sanders' decision to place O'Donnell at the Anthony Center could affect a case pending in Morgan County, where O'Donnell is awaiting sentencing for charges of breaking and entering and fleeing police. O'Donnell pleaded guilty last month to those charges.

His attorney, Robert Stone, said O'Donnell's head injury has affected his behavior. The break-in happened about 11 months after the wreck.

A different person since the wreck, O'Donnell now suffers from depression, anxiety and increased insecurity and does not think of the consequences of his actions, Stone said, citing a mental evaluation done on O'Donnell. He added that O'Donnell, though always somewhat of a follower, is now more easily influenced by others.

Stone added that O'Donnell self-medicated himself with drugs and alcohol.

Had he not sought time at the Anthony Center, O'Donnell might have been freed much sooner, Giggenbach said.

Because the sentence for DUI causing death is one to 10 years, O'Donnell may have been freed in less than a year. He has already served about four months in jail, she said.

Now, he could spend months on the Anthony Center's waiting list and still serve as much as two years there, Giggenbach said.

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