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Posted March 28, 2012 | comments 14 Comments

Evidence struck; driver acquitted in fatal crash case

Judge: No indication man had a role in December wreck

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- An Edinburg man did not incite a race with a teen driver who crashed and killed a fellow high school student in December 2010, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Sean Michael Ratcliffe, 20, of 2756 Ridge Hollow Road, appeared in Shenandoah County General District Court to stand trial on a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving.

Winchester attorney William A. "Beau" Bassler represented Ratcliffe, who pleaded not guilty to the charge.

After more than two hours of testimony, Judge Amy Tisinger granted a defense motion to strike the evidence put on by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ryan King, effectively finding Ratcliffe not guilty of the charge.

Tisinger noted the tragic nature of the case but also the difficulty in making a decision based on the facts presented in court.

"There's nothing the court can do to put people back where they were on Dec. 29, 2010," Tisiner said.

Authorities had accused Ratcliffe of driving a silver Toyota Scion recklessly while heading south on U.S. 11 just north of Woodstock the evening of Dec. 29, 2010. Ratcliffe, according to state police accounts, tried to pass a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse, driven by a 17-year-old boy. The Mitsubishi then crashed and the force of the collision ejected a passenger, Central High School junior Chad Allen Neff, also 17. Authorities later charged the driver of the Mitsubishi in the crash but would not reveal his identity even though by that time he had turned 18.

King called the incident the result of a "pick-up race" incited by Ratcliffe. Bassler questioned King's characterization of the case.

The driver of the Mitsubishi, Michael McDaniel, testified but admitted he remembered very little about the events leading up to the crash.

"It was fuzzy," McDaniel said when asked to recall what happened before the crash.
McDaniel explained he was driving south toward Woodstock and, as he headed up a hill, saw in the sideview mirror the headlights of a Toyota Scion. McDaniel told the court he saw the lights come for only a few seconds as if moving alongside his car toward the front.

"I turned around and that's the last thing I remember," McDaniel said.

"I remember seeing my friend laying there in the middle of the road," McDaniel later said.

Bassler questioned why McDaniel could recall details which preceded the crash but couldn't when police interviewed him shortly after the incident. McDaniel, on cross examination, admitted he couldn't remember what he told various troopers who interviewed him more than a year ago.

McDaniel testified he estimated driving 60 mph before the crash.

"I know I don't think I was speeding," McDaniel said, when questioned by Bassler.

But Trooper D.R. Gray, a crash reconstruction team investigator, testified the findings showed the vehicle likely reached "well over 90 miles per hour" before it left the road and collided with the embankment and rocks. The crash left McDaniel with a broken femur and knee as well as other broken bones and a concussion, he testified.

Trooper A.S. Waybright, the officer who first responded to the crash, testified he interviewed Ratcliffe on several occasions. Each time, Ratcliffe recalled he came up on the Mitsubishi traveling slower than his Toyota and then attempted to pass using the left lane, according to Waybright.

The trooper, reading from statements made by Ratcliffe, noted the defendant said he came up to a point diagonal with the Mitsubishi when the vehicle "took off." Ratcliffe told the trooper he fell back behind the Mitsubishi which then crashed ahead of him, Waybright testified. Ratcliffe, according to the trooper, said he later did speed up to try to pass the car and likely exceeded the speed limit but did not go that fast.

The judge on two occasions had to tell the audience not to speak during the hearing -- once when a man questioned a statement made by a testifying witness and again when a woman shouted in McDaniel's defense.

14 Comments | Leave a comment

    I am very disgusted with the newspaper and shenandoah county courts, everyone wants to keep going and going with this tragedy, Ppl dont realize what the Mcdaniel family and the Barb family has been going thru since that horrible day. Just leave them alone and let them try to get on with their lives. Rest in peace Chad Neff. Penny Mcdaniel

    It's OK to be disgusted, but it is news. Hopefully all involved can move on and be at peace with this tragedy.

    ticketed after the accident
    RATCLIFFE, SEAN MICHAEL 05/17/2011 09:00 AM 94-70 R.D.

    ticketed before the accident
    RATCLIFFE, SEAN MICHAEL 11/23/2010 09:00 AM 74/55 SPEEDING

    but yet he wasnt charged??? This court system sucks and someone needs to do their job
    there is no peace with this tragedy when he is still with no consequences

    he is still driving on the streets and still goes faster than the law allows and yet lets fine him and send him on his way

    Trying to understand the logic of "justice for Chad Neff". So because Mr. Ratcliff had a speeding ticket prior to and after this event, he should be held responsible for this tragic accident? From what I have read, Mr. Ratcliff slowed down and fell in behind Mr. McDaniel and there was no evidence to support that Mr. Ratcliff was going at excessive speed when the accident happened. However, the evidence does support that Mr. McDaniel was. Following the logic of "justice", if I had received a speeding ticket in my past and was a witness to an accident, because of my past ticket that accident would be my fault? As a parent, I cannot fathom the loss experienced probably every day by the McDaniel and Barb families, but let's not make it worse by placing blame where it does not belong. This was just a horrible, tragic accident and both families have my sympathy.

    This boy has been known to bump ppl have heard numerous ppl say they have raced him even after the accident and this boy just doesnt learn. The Barb and McDaniel family has lost someone and maybe when he does this to our child someones eyes will open

    I dont understand why Michael McDaniel was not charged with wreckless driving and involuntary manslaugher. His speeding is what caused him to lose control. Anyone else would have been charged. He must be related to someone in the court system. Justice for Chad can only come from holding the driver at fault responsible.

    It happens once every few years to keep the youth in check. His family and friends will always remember him, but the public's memory will wither, much like the roadside memorials. Behaviors will go back to their old ways until some kid buys the farm and the cycle will start all over again.

    Both boys were at fault n they both will have to live with that for the rest of their lives the only difference is one stood up to his actions while the other just walks n hasnt learned a damn thing. But karma sucks and it will come back on him twice as bad. I just hope he is prepared

    I guess Chads life isnt as important as the lives that Steven Boyce took.

    Michael mcdaniel was chrged for the accident n sean ratclife who has this terrible driving record and known to race and istigate ppl gets to walk free

    Sean did not cause the accident. Michaels speeding caused HIM to lose control. Your vehicle has to be under control at all times. Michaels foot was on the gas peddle no one elses. I am sorry but you cant blame someone else when you do something and it turns out bad.

    Im not saying mr. Mcdanielis not at fault but if ur going over the speed limit n someone comes up on you arent they going just as fast and if he tried passing him what does that tell you. Ever think that maybe that person would be at fault maybe not for the death but for the reckless driving he deserves. No he goes free to do it again with yet no consequences its just a damn shame this boy was raised with no concious.

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    If someone came speeding up beside me trying to pass I would slow down and let them pass. I drive 81 every day it happens all the time.You dont try to race let them go. I have a 22 year old son driving. I remind him all the time, in fact he gets sick of it. He tells me, I'm not stupid. I say I know but there are stupid people on the roads. If someone is trying to race let them pass pull over if you have to. You must do what you have to do to keep your vehicle under control.That is the law in Virginia.


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