A Crozet man accepted a plea agreement in Albemarle County Circuit Court Tuesday morning for charges from a deadly 2012 crash. Thomas Clayton Appleton, 25, pleaded guilty to racing resulting in death.
Appleton admitted he was racing when the other car crashed and killed 18-year-old Samuel Taylor. Appleton was facing one count of racing resulting in death and one count of felony hit-and-run. The felony hit-and-run charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
The accident happened around 1:15 p.m. in the 3300 block of Garth Road on September 5, 2012. Charlottesville Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Zug says the two men were driving east on Garth Road toward the city. Appleton was driving a red Chevrolet Impala and Taylor was driving a green BMW.
Zug says Taylor went to the Dairy Queen in Crozet to pick up a friend shortly before the crash. The two were on Garth Road when Appleton drove up behind Taylor's car. The vehicles then approached a hay truck and drove behind it until they got to the intersection with Millington Road. The hay truck turned left and another car pulled up behind Appleton and Taylor's cars.
The female driver of the third car was a witness in this case. Zug says the witness testified she saw Appleton pass Taylor and the cars "took off" at a high speed.
The speed limit on that section of Garth Road is 50 miles per hour and there are no passing zones.
The witness says she then saw Taylor pass Appleton and vice versa one more time. She says the last thing she saw before losing sight of the cars was Taylor trying to pass Appleton again. Then she says she saw a "poof" of debris and dust. The witness says she stopped to find Taylor's car off the side of the road.
Appleton had fled the scene of the crash, saying he was scared, panicked and already late for work in Charlottesville. He turned himself into Albemarle County police hours later.
Appleton's story differs from the witness's account in that he says he only passed Taylor's car once.
Zug says regardless of how many times the men passed each other, the cars had to have made contact because of a paint transfer they found on Taylor's car. The commonwealth tested red paint on the passenger side of Taylor's BMW and it matched the paint of Appleton's Chevrolet Impala. The commonwealth also found a tire mark on the same side of Taylor's car.
There was also green paint found on a stump near the crash site that suggests impact by Taylor's car. Zug says he believes after the two cars collided, Taylor lost control of the car and ran it off the road to the right side. After investigation of the site, Zug believes Taylor's car hit the stump, went airborne, sheered a tree, and hit another tree before the car landed facing the road.
Taylor died at the scene and his passenger was rushed to the University of Virginia Medical Center in critical condition. He is out of the hospital, but Zug says he is still recovering from his injuries.
Appleton will be back in court for sentencing on December 18 at 3:30 p.m. Zug says Appleton faces a mandatory one year behind bars, but could receive up to 20 years.
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