Trial opens in involuntary manslaughter case

FRONT ROYAL – Three people were riding in a pickup truck that turned onto Browntown Road on Jan. 25, 2014, but only two of them survived when the truck crashed moments later.

One of the survivors, Brooke Nicole Spindle, 26, went before a jury Monday in Warren County Circuit Court on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in which alcohol abuse was a contributing factor. The trial is scheduled to last three days.

Spindle is accused of persuading another vehicle occupant, Jason Richard Louderback, 32, of allowing her to drive his truck after the two had spent much of the day drinking beer and liquor at the Knotty Pine restaurant.

Louderback testified Monday that Spindle lost control of the truck on Browntown Road not long after she had taken the wheel.

The ensuing crash led to the death of Holly Anne Smedley, 25, hours later. Smedley, of Front Royal, was riding in the back seat of the truck, a 2010 Ford F150. She died at Winchester Medical Center.

In his opening statement to the jury, defense attorney John Bell attacked the credibility of statements Louderback made to law enforcement officials. Louderback has insisted that he was a passenger and Spindle was the driver at the time of the crash. Bell said he had evidence showing that bloodstains and smears found on the driver’s side of the wrecked truck came from Louderback, not Spindle.

Bell said Louderback was buying drinks for both women earlier in the day. Later, while driving the pickup truck on Gooney Manor Loop, Louderback stopped to urinate. Louderback told law enforcement officials that Spindle had moved from the passenger side to the driver’s side of the pickup truck by the time he returned.

“I would submit to you that kind of individual is not inherently credible,” Bell told the jury.

Bell also said the crash left his client with an impaired memory, and she still can’t recall the crash.

“Brooke does not know what happened to Holly, who was one of her best friends,” Bell said.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton called Louderback as the first prosecution witness.

Louderback testified Monday that he allowed Spindle to drive the truck, despite some initial reservations.

Louderback said the day of the crash began with Spindle, Smedley and him eating breakfast and drinking beer, shots and mixed drinks at the Knotty Pine until about 11:30 a.m. or noon when he and Spindle left to run an errand. They returned in the early afternoon and drank some more with Smedley, who had remained at the restaurant, Louderback testified.

The trio then set off from the Knotty Pine and were soon driving on Gooney Manor Loop. Louderback said Spindle asked him if she could drive the truck. Louderback said he agreed to do so, but only to close off the conversation. Some time later, he stopped the truck to relieve himself and returned to find Spindle behind the wheel.

“I looked at her, and she said, ‘I’m driving,’ and I said, ‘OK’,” Louderback said.

Asked by Layton why he allowed Spindle to remain behind the wheel and drive the truck, Louderback replied he had “romantic feelings” about Spindle and wanted to date her.

Louderback testified that Spindle seemed to be driving fine until she reached a straight stretch of Browntown Road where she sped up. Louderback said he told her to slow down, but the truck reached an S curve where it fishtailed, left the road and rolled over.

Louderback said he kicked out a window on the passenger side where he had been riding, freed himself from the wreckage and went around to the driver’s side to turn off the ignition of the truck, which was still running.

Louderback testified that he found Spindle lying half inside and half outside the overturned truck.

Layton presented the jury with photos showing Spindle behind the wheel of the pickup truck.

Louderback told Layton that Spindle had never sat behind the wheel of the truck until the day of the crash.

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