LEE COUNTY, Va. — Billy Gene “Toots” Lawson, 73, of Dryden, has been sentenced by the Lee County Circuit Court to serve seven years and six months in the Virginia State Penitentiary for causing the death of Jonathan David Carson, 24, of Dryden, after striking Carson with a motor vehicle in November 2010.
Lawson previously entered a plea of guilty to a charge of aggravated involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 10.
According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Shawn L. Hines, on the evening of Nov. 12 last year, Lawson got behind the wheel of his Ford F-250 pickup truck after consuming alcoholic beverages.
Lawson “blacked out” and drove his truck off the right side of the roadway near the intersection of Dryden Loop and Route 58-A. The truck struck Carson, who happened to be walking along the roadside.
Lawson then drove his truck a short distance toward Route 58-A crashing head-on into a guardrail disabling the vehicle. Virginia State Trooper Billy Adkins investigated the crash and determined that Lawson’s blood alcohol level was .21, nearly three times the legal limit.
Lawson explained he “blacked out” as he approached the intersection and did not recall any part of the accident. He told state investigators he remembered driving the truck down the road and then waking up in the hospital.
During the initial crash investigation, no one realized Carson had been struck and killed by Lawson. The impact had thrown Carson’s body over the guardrail some distance away from the location that Lawson’s vehicle came to rest. Lawson claimed he did not know he struck a pedestrian that night.
Carson sustained massive external and internal injuries, including multiple fractures, lacerations, contusions and abrasions. The medical examiner officially ruled Carson died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen and chest.
On Nov. 15, 2010, a man walking his dog discovered Carson’s body lying over the guardrail and notified the state police. The drunk driving investigation then turned into a homicide investigation.
Virginia State Trooper Archie Woliver and Special Agent M.A. McClanahan headed the investigation into Carson’s death. Although there was evidence that other vehicles had recently struck the guardrail at the same location as Lawson, the state police connected Lawson’s vehicle to Carson’s death through forensic analysis.
The state police forensically matched paint samples taken from Lawson’s vehicle with paint smears and chips on the clothing worn by Carson. Further, the state police forensically matched pieces of broken plastic collected from the scene and Carson’s clothing with broken plastic hanging from Lawson’s right headlight.
At his sentencing on Tuesday, Lawson addressed Carson’s family and told them he was sorry for what happened and that he would “undo it” if he could.
In pronouncing judgment, Judge Tammy S. McElyea told Lawson that the choices he made had taken the life of a very young man and destroyed the lives of both the victim’s family as well as that of Lawson’s family.
The judge commented that Lawson was so intoxicated at the time of the crash that he did not even realize he had struck and killed a pedestrian. She told Lawson he must stand accountable for his extreme reckless behavior.
The judge sentenced Lawson to serve 15 years in prison, but suspended half of the time leaving him with seven years and six months to serve. She also indefinitely suspended his privilege to operate a motor vehicle. Following his release from prison, he must serve seven years of supervised probation.