Involuntary manslaughter case sent to grand jury

FRONT ROYAL – A general district court judge found probable cause Tuesday to support a charge of involuntary manslaughter against a woman who authorities say was driving a pickup truck when it crashed and killed a passenger traveling with her nearly a year ago.

The ruling by Judge W. Dale Houff sends the case to a Circuit Court grand jury that will consider an indictment against the defendant, Brooke Nicole Spindle, 25, of Front Royal, for her actions in the death of Holly Anne Smedley, 25, also of Front Royal.

Smedley died at Winchester Medical Center, where she was transported after the 2010 Ford F-350 pickup truck she was riding in on Jan. 25 left the right side of the Browntown Road, ran into a ditch, hit a tree and overturned.

Authorities say the truck, owned by Jason Richard Louderback, 31, of Front Royal, was being driven by Spindle at the time of the crash. Louderback testified at Tuesday’s preliminary hearing that he and Smedley were passengers in the truck while Spindle was behind the wheel.

Trooper Terry L. Hilliker of the Virginia State Police testified that Spindle registered a .168 blood alcohol level on a preliminary test he administered. Later test results obtained from the state Department of Forensic Science showed a sample of whole blood from Spindle at .198 and a blood serum sample that listed a blood alcohol level of .217. The legal blood alcohol limit in Virginia is 0.08.

Louderback testified that he and Spindle had spent part of the day eating and drinking beer and shots of whiskey at a Front Royal restaurant and bar. They had a mid-morning breakfast at the Knotty Pine, left to run some errands and then returned in the mid-afternoon for some more beer and shots, Louderback said.

After leaving the Knotty Pine for a second time, Louderback, Spindle and Smedley went for a drive on Gooney Manor Loop. Louderback, who was driving up until that point, testified he stopped to urinate. While he was outside the truck, he allowed Spindle to slip behind the wheel of the truck.

Under questioning by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, Louderback said he agreed to let Spindle drive after repeated requests from her.

Louderback said Spindle was “doing fine” driving the truck until she started to speed up on Bentonville Road.

“I said, ‘slow down,'” Louderback told Layton.

Louderback said Spindle ignored him several more times when he told her to slow down. The truck reached an S turn on Browntown Road where it fishtailed, spun out of control and ran off the road, Louderback said.

Louderback said he freed himself from the overturned pickup by kicking out a window on the passenger’s side of the vehicle.

Sgt. Thomas Hodges of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office testified he arrived at the scene and spoke briefly to Spindle. He found her with blood running from her ears.

“Her earrings were ripped out,” Hodges said.

“I asked her if she remembered the accident,” Hodges said. “She said she wasn’t in any accident.”

Hodges added that Spindle said she couldn’t remember the date or the day.

Houff said the three different blood alcohol readings from Spindle were no barrier to a finding of probable cause in the case. He reached the same conclusion about Louderback’s account of letting Spindle drive his truck.

“It is odd that [Louderback] gives up his [truck] for the young lady to drive, but it’s not unbelievable,” Houff said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com