Driver gets 5 years for fatal crash
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jun 3, 2014, 13:21
PRINCE GEORGE — A Maryland man will serve five years behind bars for the accident in Prince George in November that claimed the life of his 7-year-old son.
Jeffery Higgs, 28, of Maryland, pleaded guilty to the five charges, including a felony count of aggravated involuntary manslaughter. Higgs told Judge Thomas Warren that he had decided to plead guilty just a few days before he was to appear in court.
Before the charges were handed down, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Mark Barnard laid out the events of that night in November.
On November 29, Higgs went to pick up his two children, his 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, at a local daycare in Prince George. Immediately prior to picking up his children, he had been consuming whiskey at a family birthday party.
Shortly after Higgs left to pick up his children, a call was made to police by family members at the party. They told police they were concerned about Higgs being behind the wheel based on his condition when he left the party.
Higgs’ defense attorney, Peter Eliades, said there had been an argument prior to Higgs leaving the party. Eliades also said Higgs and his wife and children were down in Emporia visiting family over Thanksgiving Day weekend.
Upon picking up his children, Higgs was involved in the first of two crashes on northbound Interstate 95. He was traveling north when his black Nissan Maxima struck the rear of Carl Brown’s car. Brown told police the car struck him at a high rate of speed and, even after striking the car, continued to travel at a high rate.
The call for the hit-and-run came into police at 9:14 p.m. Brown had told police it took a while to get to the nearest exit to make the phone call due the traffic backup — the backup that had started due to the second crash.
Further up I-95, Higgs passed the car of Alan and Kathy Hammer at a high rate of speed. They witnessed the vehicle veer to the left, brush the jersey wall on the left, overcorrect and travel to the right side of the road off the shoulder, striking four trees. Photos from the crash scene indicate the vehicle was split into two pieces.
The call for the second crash came into police at 9:09 p.m. Cathy Hammer was able to approach the front of the vehicle and assist the 3-year-old daughter until EMS arrived on scene. The daughter was unharmed in the accident. Cathy also told police she thought Higgs was dead, though he was just unconscious. The 7-year-old was deceased at the scene due to his injuries.
Police also did a search of the vehicle and smelled the odor of marijuana. Police then found a backpack containing marijuana in the front seat of the car.
Higgs was flown to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond and his blood was drawn about six hours after the crash. At 3:40 a.m. his blood alcohol content was .05. Barnard told Judge Warren that testimony from Dr. James Hutchings, from the Department of Forensic Science, would indicate that at the time of the accident Higgs’ BAC would have been .11, which is .03 over the legal limit.
Upon his release from the hospital five days later, Higgs admittedly told police the marijuana was his, that he had been drinking whiskey before he got behind the wheel and an argument prompted him to leave the party in Emporia.
Judge Warren accepted the plea agreement between the defense and the prosecution. The plea agreement states Higgs is to serve 20 years, with 15 years suspended for the aggravated involuntary manslaughter. For the DUI with a child in the car, Higgs will serve the required five days in jail, with 12 years suspended, which are based upon the sentencing guidelines. That charge also carries a mandatory $750 fine and his license suspended for a year.
The felony count of possession with intent to distribute was amended to possession of marijuana, with a sentence of 30 days with 30 suspended.
Higgs was charged with felony child abuse and neglect and sentenced to five years with all five suspended.
The felony charge of hit and run was amended to a misdemeanor hit and run, with a 12 month, 12 months suspended sentence. Higgs was also ordered to pay $200 to Carl Brown and $1,155 to Nationwide Insurance for the damages.
Though calling the events that unfolded that day in November “tragic,” Barnard said the sentence for Higgs was based on the guidelines for the state as well as all the information that was presented for the case.
“Everything broke loose on this day,” Judge Warren said to Higgs, noting that he had no prior criminal history in Maryland or Virginia. “This is something that you will never get over and should never get over.”