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Man pleads guilty in fatal accident

Thursday, January 10, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A Martinsville man on Wednesday admitted his involvement in the March death of a Callands woman.

James Benjamin Hairston, 33, of Martinsville, pleaded guilty in Martinsville Circuit Court on Wednesday to aggravated involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Melissa Renee Jackson, 38, of Callands.

Jackson was pronounced dead at the scene of a March 24 crash on Church Street after the 1999 white Chrysler 300 she bought the day before skidded off the right side of the road, onto the sidewalk and through a grassy area before striking a utility pole, according to Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar and previous reports.

Authorities determined that Hairston was driving at the time of the crash, according to testimony.

It was not immediately known that someone other than Hairston was in the car because the impact from the collision pushed the passenger seat and console so Jackson was not visible, according to Ziglar.

At the time of her death, Jackson was seeing Hairston, who had invited her to a birthday party in Collinsville on March 24, Ziglar said. When Jackson and Hairston left the gathering, the roads were wet because it had rained.

Witnesses were not called Wednesday, but much of the testimony from Hairston’s Aug. 30 preliminary hearing was recounted. In that hearing, Brittany Short testified that she was driving out of Martinsville toward Danville between 11 p.m. and midnight on March 24 when she saw the collision occur.

Witnesses who went to help at the scene said Hairston asked them not to call law enforcement, according to testimony.

Hairston’s leg was lodged in the vehicle, he “was uncooperative” at the scene, and complained about feet, hip and leg pain, Ziglar said. “He had to pull to dislodge his leg,” but his shoe remained stuck under the gas pedal, she said.

Once free from the wreckage, Hairston was even more uncooperative and belligerent, Ziglar said.

“It took three men to hold him down” as he was strapped onto a gurney, she added.

Officers at the scene noticed an odor of alcohol, that Hairston’s eyes were blood shot and that his speech was slurred, according to testimony.

Forensic toxicologist Dr. David Burrows testified in August that Hairston’s blood alcohol content was 0.20, and 0.05 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, an ingredient in marijuana), was found during toxicology tests.

In August, Hairston was found guilty in a lower court of driving under the influence and driving suspended in connection with the incident.

Hairston, who was dressed in a gray and white striped inmate suit, orange sandals and leg irons, sat beside his attorney, Christine Slate, in court Wednesday and answered a routine series of questions about his guilty plea.

The offense is punishable by a sentence of up to 20 years, according to Circuit Court Judge G. Carter Greer.

A presentencing report was ordered by Greer, and sentencing is set for April 24.


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