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By Alex Bridges -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Amanda and Mark Roe's young sons died before the family's Jeep Cherokee burst into flames in last year's fatal crash, autopsy results show.
The force of Steven A. Boyce's pickup slamming into the rear of the Roe's SUV caused the couple's sons, Caleb and Tyler, to suffer blunt force trauma to their heads, Frederick County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andrew Robbins told a judge Wednesday.
Boyce pleaded guilty in Frederick County Circuit Court to crimes charging him with driving drunk and causing the June 26, 2011, crash that killed four people. Test results showed Boyce had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.33 percent at the time of the crash -- more than four times the legal limit. An expert witness would testify a person's "response to emergencies on the highway would be virtually nonexistent" at that level, Robbins said.
Robbins gave a recitation of the evidence and witness' testimony the commonwealth planned to present had Boyce's case gone to trial. Prosecutors had prepared to call more than 20 experts, emergency responders and other witnesses.
Robbins showed retired Judge Benjamin Kendrick photographs taken at the crash scene -- the burned-out shell of the Jeep Cherokee, Amanda and Mark Roe's remains in the front seats, the bodies of their children still buckled in behind the parents. Members of the victims' family in the courtroom burst into tears when they saw the photographs displayed on the screen, despite efforts to shield them from the image.
Robbins showed copies of the results of autopsies on the victims. The medical examiner's office found that Amanda and Mark Roe died from thermal injuries and smoke inhalation, according to Robbins. The prosecutor showed photographs taken during their autopsies which showed the damage to their esophagi.
But, according to autopsies performed on the children, each boy died from suffering blunt force trauma to the head, Robbins said. The prosecutor also showed photographs from the boys' autopsies and noted that each child did not show the same internal injuries as their parents.
Robbins also offered as evidence the events leading up to the crash. The prosecutor said that Joseph Gillick would have testified that he saw Boyce at Steve Stock, an outdoor festival at the Frederick County fairgrounds in Stephenson, the morning of the crash. Boyce appeared to act belligerent toward other people and at some point Gillick drove the defendant's Chevrolet S10 pickup to a nearby 7-Eleven, Robbins said. Gillick left Boyce, asleep in the pickup, at the store.
The Roe family the morning of the crash stopped at the Sheetz on Martinsburg Pike on their way to visit Shirley Roe, Mark Roe's mother, in Stephenson at approximately 10:40 a.m., Robbins said.
Video surveillance footage from Sheetz shows Amanda Roe driving the family Jeep into a parking space then going inside the business. A short while later footage shows Boyce driving his pickup into a space next to the Jeep. The pickup hit a post in the space. Boyce, shirtless and wearing a cap, exits his vehicle, walks toward the front and looks at the front-end damage before walking into the business.
Footage shows Boyce standing in line two customers behind Amanda Roe.
Amanda Roe returned to the Jeep and pulls out of the space to leave the Sheetz, exiting to head north on Martinsburg Pike. Boyce comes out of the business, again looks at the damage to his vehicle, gets back into the truck and drives out to Amoco Road before turning right on to Martinsburg Pike. The footage shows the pickup traveling north at a high rate of speed, according to Robbins.
The prosecutor showed footage of video taken from the camera in Frederick County Sheriff's Deputy Eddie Roberts Jr.'s cruiser as he headed to the crash scene. Smoke billowed from the vehicle clearly engulfed in flames.
Michael M. Mitchell, a Loudoun County firefighter and emergency medical technician, tried to break out the windows of the Roe's vehicle using a folding chair from Boyce's pickup, Robbins said. Mitchell could hear the screams coming from inside, Robbins added, but the fire grew too intense and the responder pulled away. Eventually the screams stopped and Mitchell went to assist Misty Nitz, of Slainsville, W.Va., an EMT, with Boyce.
While Boyce said in the presence of law enforcement that he tried to stop to avoid hitting the Jeep, Robbins noted that crash analysis by the Virginia state police showed no skid marks matching either vehicle. Robbins said witnesses would have testified that Boyce was traveling at 20 miles over the posted speed limit of 35 mph when the pickup crashed.