Jury fines man $2,500 for driving 107 mph on I-81

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County Circuit Court jury fined a Tennessee man $2,500 Wednesday after convicting him on a reckless driving charge of 107 mph in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 81.

Joel Brice Tawembe, 23, testified that he was northbound looking for a gas station or similar facility where he could he use a restroom before he was pulled over at 2:50 a.m. on June 22 just south of Woodstock. He said a cousin riding in the vehicle was helping him navigate with a GPS device.

“I was paying attention to road signs, but I didn’t locate a gas station or anything like that,” Tawembe said.

Virginia State Police Trooper Michael Painter testified that his radar showed Tawembe traveling at 107 mph. Tawembe, a college student, said he was on his way to Maryland to visit a friend at the time he was stopped.

Tawembe’s attorney, Blake Woloson of Woodbridge, said in an interview afterward that he sought the jury trial in an effort to head off a jail sentence for his client. A reckless driving charge is a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.

The jury took about 15 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kristen Zalenski asked the jury to impose an unspecified jail sentence on Tawembe.

“One hundred and seven miles per hour is a deadly speed,” Zalenski told the jury.

“That’s a speed at which you can change your life or someone else’s like that,” she added, snapping her fingers.

Woloson argued that his client wasn’t racing, weaving in and out of traffic, drunk “or any of the other things we normally associate with reckless driving” at the time he was pulled over. Woloson added that Tawembe had no previous driving offenses during the three years he has held a license.

“He’s led a good, honest life,” Woloson said of Tawembe. “He does not need to go to jail for this.”

Court costs and other fees raised the total amount Tawembe must pay to $3,259.

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