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Strobridge sentenced to prison

July 31, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Before taking the stand Friday afternoon, Margaret Walker handed to a judge a ribbon-bound Bible that she wants Brian W. Strobridge to take with him to prison.

Walker then spoke to Strobridge, the man who caused a multiple-vehicle accident two years ago that killed three people, including Walker's teenage son, and injured two others.

Several people addressed Strobridge in Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes' courtroom. Strobridge, 39, of Martinsburg, also read a statement before he was sentenced.

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After listening to everyone, Wilkes sentenced Strobridge to serve one to 10 years in prison for each of the three counts of driving under the influence of cocaine causing death, one year for each of the two counts of DUI causing injury and 90 days for reckless driving. Those were the maximum penalties.

All but the 90-day sentence will be served consecutively.

A jury previously found Strobridge guilty of those charges.

Strobridge also was ordered to pay a $200 fine for two traffic offenses.

Walker said she and her husband will never see their son, Terry Lee Walker Jr., receive his college degree. They'll never hold grandchildren. They'll never smile or laugh with him.

"The last purchase I made for my son was a headstone for his grave," Walker said.

She said she received hundreds of sympathy cards from many people, save for one.

"I looked for your card. I did not get it," she told Strobridge.

Although Walker lost her only child, she said she forgives Strobridge.

"Why do I forgive you? I forgive you because God requested us to extend his grace because he has extended his grace to us," she said.

She requested that Strobridge one day find it in his heart to speak to students about the dangers of taking drugs or alcohol and driving. Such a discussion might prevent someone else from sitting in the courtroom wearing orange jail-issued clothes, she said.

"If we can save one kid from that, it's worth it," Walker said.

Terry Walker, 17, of Leetown, W.Va.; Carleton Wilcox, 20, of Charles Town, W.Va.; and Marion Rao, 51, of Martinsburg, were killed in the accident.

Walker and Wilcox were in a Jeep Wrangler that was crushed underneath Strobridge's dump truck. Rao was in a car that was the first one hit on July 10, 2002, around 4:45 p.m. The accident occurred after Strobridge's truck crossed the center line of W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg on the Opequon Creek bridge.

Others who spoke during Strobridge's sentencing hearing were not as forgiving as Walker.

Peter Reiff was driving the last vehicle hit that day.

He said Strobridge should be ordered to serve the maximum sentences possible and that they should be served consecutively.

Strobridge never pulled over or tried to stop that day, despite driving recklessly from Charles Town to the accident site.

During his two-day jury trial in May, Strobridge expressed no remorse and seemed more concerned with having a bag of Skittles and drinking a soda during a break, Reiff said.

Reiff said that each time a large truck passes him in the opposite direction, his palms sweat and his heart races. He said he instinctively looks for an escape route and orders his family to be quiet so he can concentrate.

He said he wished Strobridge could experience the nightmares he suffers.

Marion Rao moved to this area from New York City because she felt it was too dangerous there, said her sister, Francis Albertoli.

Albertoli, a nurse like her sister, had to identify Rao's body in the basement of Brown Funeral Home. She told Strobridge that one of her sister's arms was broken in several places, her abdomen was swollen from internal injuries and glass shards were embedded in her arm, face and neck.

Rao's shoe was molded into the shape of her foot from a frantic attempt to avoid being hit by the dump truck, Albertoli said.

Rao was supposed to pick up Albertoli and her family at the airport the day after the accident, since the Albertolis were on vacation in Italy. The only gift Rao requested from Italy was a crucifix.

"I buried her with it," Albertoli said.

Albertoli's husband, James, said that he is certain his sister-in-law was in the courtroom, still looking out for her family as she did in life.

Her soul and the souls of those like her - including James Albertoli's brother, who was killed by an impaired driver 25 years ago while riding a bicycle - cry out for "this poor excuse of a man" to be locked up for as long as possible, he said.

"God is the ultimate judge. He has a special place for Brian Strobridge," he said.

Nobody hates Strobridge or wishes he would suffer what the victims have, said Wilcox's brother, Rahsaan Edwards.

Edwards said he is the oldest of 11 siblings and that Wilcox was the second oldest. Edwards' 3-year-old son looks at photographs of Wilcox and asks who he is.

"What am I supposed to tell him?" Edwards asked.

As the victims and their families spoke, Strobridge sat in a chair, leaning forward. It was not possible to tell whether he looked at the people speaking.

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