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W.Va. man gets one year in DUI deaths

August 10, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Hedgesville, W.Va., man charged with causing a car wreck that led to two deaths nearly three years ago was sentenced Monday to serve a year in jail, the maximum sentence possible under a plea bargain.

Joshua D. Barrett, 21, had been charged with two counts of driving under the influence causing death, but agreed on June 15 to plead guilty to two counts of DUI causing injury.

Kyra Heleine, 19, of Falling Waters, W.Va., and Tristan A. Ashby, 21, of Martinsburg, were killed in the single-car wreck on Cherry Run Road in Hedgesville on Sept. 4, 2001.

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Police have said that the 2002 Ford Explorer in which the three were riding was going more than 80 mph when it ran off the road and hit a tree. Barrett's blood-alcohol level at the time was .114, records state.

In court Monday afternoon, Barrett read to Circuit Judge David Sanders a statement, asking that he be allowed to serve his sentence as home confinement and/or probation. Barrett said he has grown emotionally since the wreck and could better serve his debt to society if he is not incarcerated.

He also expressed sorrow. "I am and will remain remorseful for the rest of my life," he said.

Three people spoke on Barrett's behalf - a cousin for whom he works, his stepgrandfather and a former employer.

All three said they believe Barrett would abide by any guidelines that allowed him to serve his sentence as home confinement or probation. Each man also said he does not believe Barrett will commit any more crimes.

"There's been a big improvement (in Barrett) since the accident. Definitely for the better," said his cousin, Richard Barrett, the owner of an excavating company where Joshua Barrett works.

Opposing a sentence of anything other than jail were Lavonne Heleine and Gloria Ashby, mothers of the deceased victims.

Heleine said her daughter was picked up by her two friends - Ashby and Barrett - a little after 10 p.m. that night. Ashby had rented the Ford Explorer and put both it and his own life in Barrett's hands.

"You destroyed both," Heleine said.

Until the hearing, Barrett showed no remorse or sorrow, she said. He also had not attempted to obtain his high school diploma or sought counseling for an alcohol problem, Heleine said.

In addition to serving time in jail, Barrett should have to perform community service with an organization like Mothers Against Drunk Driving or Students Against Drunk Driving, Heleine said.

Not placing Barrett in jail would send a message that such conduct is OK, Heleine said. She asked Sanders to send a message to the community. "It is not OK to drink and drive and kill others," she said.

Gloria Ashby's comments were similar.

Barrett has asserted that he was not driving that night and filed a civil lawsuit against the families of both Heleine and Ashby seeking compensatory damages for his medical expenses, which have totaled $160,000.

"You have to accept responsibility, Josh. That's what I want," Ashby said.

She said her family and the family of Heleine agreed to the plea bargain, which is more than Barrett should have expected. She asked that he now admit he was driving that night.

During his statement, Barrett did not specifically say he was driving but did say that he has not denied his guilt.

Ashby also asked that Barrett work and pay taxes, something her son was doing by the time he was 15 years old. "Do something with your life. Don't waste it because you know and all of you know that Tristan was a responsible man," Ashby said.

Before sentencing Barrett, Sanders said the case was a tragic and emotional one that led to the "needless, senseless" deaths of two young people. He said the families of Ashby and Heleine have exhibited a certain amount of understanding and forgiveness by agreeing to accept the plea bargain.

Yet, he said, a drunken driving accident that led to two deaths requires incarceration. He said the lawsuit filed against the deceased victims' families shows Barrett only cares about himself, not helping others deal with their grief.

He said Barrett needs time to reflect and asked that Barrett stand up for formal sentencing.

Barrett stood with his hands in his pockets and showed no visible reaction as Sanders sentenced him to serve two concurrent one-year sentences in jail.

Members of Barrett's family cried loudly and, later outside of the courthouse, screamed. Barrett was led to a back room, where he was handcuffed before being taken to Eastern Regional Jail to begin serving his sentence.

Two lawsuits filed in connection with the case are pending.

Barrett's lawsuit, which was filed on Aug. 28, 2003, alleges that Ashby was driving at the time of the accident. If a judge finds that Ashby was not driving, then Heleine was driving that night, the lawsuit states.

On Sept. 2, 2003, less than a week after Barrett filed his suit, Heleine's father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both Barrett and Ashby's family.

That lawsuit alleges that either Barrett or Ashby was driving.

At the time of the wreck Heleine was on home confinement, awaiting a felony murder trial. She had been charged with injecting heroin into the arm of a man who was later found dead in the back seat of a car.

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