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Sentencing set in fatal DUI case

January 29, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Berkeley County man who police allege was criminally responsible for the deaths of two Ohio women in an April 2008 accident on W.Va. 9 is scheduled to be sentenced April 2.

Darrell James Russ Jr., of 140 Rustic Tavern Road, entered no contest pleas Thursday to two counts of driving under the influence causing death and two counts of DUI causing bodily injury, according to Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gregory Jones.

A third count of DUI causing bodily injury returned by a grand jury in October against Russ was dismissed, Jones said after a pretrial hearing Thursday morning.

Russ, 28, has been held at Eastern Regional Jail since April 17, when the accident happened about 1:30 p.m. west of Hedgesville, W.Va., near Log Home Drive, according to jail and court records.

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Edna Nofziger, 90, and Mary Kempf, 68, were pronounced dead at the accident scene, and two others riding in a silver Buick toward Berkeley Springs, W.Va., were injured.

Russ' girlfriend, Crystal Gilbert, also was injured while riding in a Ford Windstar van with him toward Martinsburg, according to court records.

The collision happened on Russ' side of the road, which Jones said made prosecution of the case more difficult.

The plea entered before 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh on Thursday was spurred by the state's discovery that Russ told his insurance company in the days after the accident that he had taken two Xanax at noon on April 17, which was about an hour and a half before the collision, Jones said.

Russ also told the insurance company that he had swerved to miss a deer in his driving lane and was in the opposing lane of travel, Jones said.

In reaction to the swerving van, the driver of the Buick went into Russ' lane of travel and the head-on collision happened when the defendant corrected and returned to the eastbound side of the road, Jones said.

In addition to the insurance company statement, laboratory testing showed Russ had methadone and "a high level" of benzodiazepines (Xanax) in his blood when the accident occurred, Jones said.

Russ could receive a sentence of two to 10 years for each count of DUI causing death and up to one year in prison for each count of DUI causing bodily injury, Jones said.

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