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W.Va. man gets prison in fatal accident

May 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A Berkeley County man on Monday received the maximum prison sentence for causing the April 2008 deaths of two Ohio women and seriously injuring two others in a vehicle accident on W.Va. 9 that authorities said involved drug use.

Darrell James Russ Jr., 29, was ordered by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gina M. Groh to serve consecutively the four prison terms that came with two counts of DUI causing death and two counts of DUI causing bodily injury.

Russ received a sentence of two to 10 years for each count of DUI causing death and one year in prison for each count of DUI causing bodily injury. Groh also ordered Russ to pay $2,500 in fines and more than $5,000 in restitution.

"I hope you get the help you need (while in the penitentiary) so you don't wind up here in court again," Groh told Russ before he was returned to Eastern Regional Jail.

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The judge said her decision was in the community's "best interest" after hearing Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gregory Jones read letters in the courtroom that were written by family members of victims Edna Nofziger, 90, and Mary Ellen Kempf, 68, who died, and Sanford and Linda Eash, who received life-threatening injuries in the April 17, 2008, accident.

The Eashes' children said in their letter to the court that their father had 21 broken ribs, a broken sternum, a broken jaw and a dislocated ankle, and their mother had bones broken in both legs and ankles, 10 bones broken in her right foot, a fractured rib and a C-2 break in her neck.

"They lived for five weeks in a nursing home," the children wrote. "Although at times we don't always understand God's reasoning, we hope that you, Darrell, can see how devastating this has been for our family.

"Our parents will never fully recover from their all of their injuries. The lives that were taken will never be returned. The scars are always going to be there."

The Eashes told Russ they forgave him for what he took from them "because God wants us to be forgiving."

Russ, 29, has been held at Eastern Regional Jail since the accident happened about 1:30 p.m. west of Hedgesville, W.Va., near Log Home Drive, according to jail and court records.

Nofziger and Kempf were pronounced dead at the accident scene.

They were returning home with the Eashes from the funeral of a family member.

"I know that nothing in the outcome of this sentencing of (Russ) will bring back or lessen the emptiness we feel with the loss of a wife and mother and a grandmother," Rhonda Kempf and Darrel Kempf wrote in a letter to the court.

Russ entered no-contest pleas in January to the charges after the state discovered that he told his insurance company in the days after the accident that he took two Xanax about an hour and a half before the collision.

A third count of DUI causing bodily injury returned by a grand jury in October 2008 against Russ was dismissed.

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 has said.

According to the drug maker's Web site, Xanax is a prescription medication used in the treatment of panic disorder.

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