The trial of a man charged with reckless driving in a fatal 2016 crash ended in a mistrial May 23.
After a full day of deliberations following a day of testimony, the seven-member jury was split on whether to convict or acquit Zebulon B. Downing. Finding the group would be unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict, Circuit Court Judge Stephen Sincavage declared a mistrial.
The 26-year-old accounting firm associate was nearing the end of a six-hour drive from Charlotte, NC, to meet with a client in Leesburg on Nov. 1, 2016, when his Jeep Wrangler slammed into the rear of a Jeep Grand Cherokee pulled over on the side of Rt. 7 just west of town. The driver of the Cherokee, 44-year-old Steven Snead,who may have been standing in front of his vehicle, was thrown through the air and died at the scene from traumatic head injuries. Snead, a Pennsylvania resident, was found to have a 0.12 blood alcohol content, well over the legal limit for driving of 0.08. It was unclear why Snead had pulled over.
The case hinged on whether jurors believed that Downing was driving with a disregard for the human life at the time of the crash. Downing said he did not see the parked SUV until it was too late to avoid a crash. He also said the vehicle was stopped partially in the roadway.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Faw laid out a case that Downing was distracted just before the crash by an alert from his GPS notifying him of his upcoming exit. He said the evidence showed that Downing veered off the travel lane and was partially driving on the shoulder when he struck the stopped vehicle. A key piece of evidence was a photo record from the Sheriff’s Office accident reconstruction team showing Downing’s tire track on the right side of the highway’s white line delineating the shoulder. Faw described the commonwealth’s case as being based on “irrefutable circumstantial evidence.”
Defense attorney Lorrie Sinclair dismissed the prosecution’s version of events as “speculation and conjecture.” There were no eyewitnesses to the crash and no one reported seeing the Jeep parked on or along the road.
Prosecutors may seek a retrial. The case is on the Circuit Court docket for June 4 to begin that process.