Barker jailed for hit and run

Published 10:07 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Shelia Barker

A South Hill resident who claimed innocence following a two-vehicle collision in August 2017 has been sentenced to 30 days in jail on convictions of a felony of hit and run with property damage exceeding $1,000 and a misdemeanor of reckless driving.

Sheila Clary Barker, 52, received an additional four years and 11 months suspended subject to conditions of supervised probation for one year, good behavior for five years including abstaining from alcohol, and payment of restitution to the victim in the amount of $4,411.35, according to a release from the Lunenburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Office.

Barker was convicted by Circuit Court Judge S. Anderson Nelson after a lengthy hearing June 12 and a sentence hearing Sept. 18.

According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement who prosecuted the charges, the evidence at trial consisted of the following:

“On Aug. 18, 2017, Trooper J. L. Criner of the Virginia State Police was dispatched at 2:28 a.m. to a reported two-vehicle collision at 1125 Craig Mill Road in Lunenburg County. Criner found the male victim at the scene with his damaged 1994 Chevrolet Cheyenne GMT 400 pickup truck,” the release cited. “The other vehicle had left the scene without stopping.”

“The truck had heavy damage down the entire length of the driver’s side,” the release continued. “The victim had left his home on Craig Mill Road about 2 a.m. going to work in North Carolina. He testified that he saw a vehicle approaching him down the road and going over the center of the roadway. He moved his vehicle as far as possible to the right and part of his truck off the side of the paved portion, but the other vehicle came over into his lane of travel and struck his vehicle. He said as the truck went by him, he saw that it was a white pickup truck that had been lifted and had large tires.”

The release cited that the victim said the impact of the collision lifted the side of his vehicle off the ground.

Trooper Criner found evidence that included skid marks from the victim’s truck on his side of the road, gouge marks from the other vehicle in victim’s lane of travel and two pieces of metal of what appeared to be from the wheel of the tire of the other vehicle. Criner said evidence further showed that the tire of the other vehicle had deflated and was continued to be driven down the paved road on the rim about 2 to 3 miles making gouge marks in the pavement.

Later during the day, the victim called State Police and said he had spotted the other truck in the yard of Shelia Barker. The truck was registered to the defendant.

Criner looked at the truck, and found that the truck was jacked up and that the driver’s side front tire and wheel had been removed, the release cited. It matched the description given by the victim at the scene of the crash. Criner also compared the pieces of the rim he had recovered to the other wheels and found that they matched perfectly.

“Criner then went to Applebee’s in South Hill where the defendant worked,” the release cited. “He advised her of her Miranda rights. He said she acted like she did not know why he was there to talk to her. After another trooper told her that she could not be charged with DUI and that they were just investigating a crash, she said she would tell them what happened.”

“She said that she had gone to pick up two friends, and then on the way back to her house her friend dropped a cigarette,” the release continued. “She said she swiped at it, taking her eyes off the road. She said she heard a loud pop sound, but thought she had just blown a tire because it didn’t feel like she had hit anything.”

The release cited that the defendant reportedly changed her story in court, testifying that she just was driving over the bridge into Lunenburg County and heard a pop and noticed the tire going down. “She said she pulled over and that a ‘little boy’ stopped and changed the tire for them,” the release cited. “She said she did not hit anyone and did not drive the vehicle on the rim for miles down the road. She did admit on cross-examination that she was on the same road as the accident and about the same time as the accident. She could not explain away the matching of the pieces of the wheel found at the scene of the wreck with the other wheels on her truck.”

Amber Gibson, according to the release, testified that the defendant and her own mother were best friends.

“(Gibson) said she was at Kahill’s, a bar and restaurant in South Hill,” the release cited. “Although the defendant testified that Gibson had called her at home from Kahill’s to come get her to drive her home, Gibson said the defendant was already there at Kahill’s and may have been drinking. She said that she (Gibson) was too intoxicated to drive, so she asked the defendant to give her a ride home. She testified that she could vaguely remember riding down the road, and could not remember anything about the crash or a flat tire.”

The release cited that the defendant said there were two other persons in the vehicle with her, but she called only Amber Gibson as a witness and never identified the other person.

Mary Johnson testified that she had been a friend of the defendant for about 17 years.

“On direct examination by the defendant’s attorney, she said that the defendant had a good reputation for truthfulness, but on cross-examination she admitted that she was also aware that her reputation for truthfulness was bad in the community,” the release cited.

Judge Nelson, according to the release, found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Sheila Barker was the driver of the white pickup truck that struck the victim early that morning, that she had driven in a reckless manner so as to endanger life or property, and that she had failed to report the crash which involved property damage of more than $1,000.

The sentencing in the case was bifurcated, and a sentencing hearing was held on Sept. 18. The Commonwealth’s position was argued by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Baxter Stegall.

Concerning the collision’s impact on the victim and his family, the victim’s wife testified during the sentencing hearing on behalf of the Commonwealth.

“She read a letter that she and her husband had written explaining how the crash had affected them,” the release cited. “During her testimony, she outlined the great physical pain that her husband has endured since the crash, as well as the medical and financial difficulties they have had to face as a family since that night. She testified that her husband still experienced great pain each day in his shoulder and back, yet has to work six to seven days per week to support his family. He attended weekly chiropractic appointments to reduce his pain. She said he could not take pain medication because his job requires him to operate heavy machines. She testified that he experienced severe pain if he tried to raise his arms above his head, even making putting a shirt on in the mornings a difficult challenge. She testified that he was only able to pick up and hold their daughter for short periods of time. She suffers a disability in her legs and often has trouble walking.”

The release cited that, according to the wife, the victim drives almost an hour each way to work, leaving each morning around 2 a.m., and works six and sometimes seven days each week.

She testified that the loss of one of their family’s vehicles had caused great difficulty in transporting their 9-year-old daughter to specialty medical appointments in Richmond and at Duke University Hospital.

She testified that the family had outlaid more than $4,000 out-of-pocket for medical expenses and renting a car to take her daughter to appointments.

She testified that since the crash, she stays up each night waiting to hear from her husband to be certain that he has arrived safely at work. She stated that her daughter had told them she wished her father wouldn’t leave for work, so that she wouldn’t have to worry about him getting hurt driving again.

The defendant called seven witnesses, mostly close friends or family members, who testified on her behalf, speaking to her character and her good deeds to the community.

“Stegall argued that Barker’s actions on the night of the crash, as well as her actions afterward, demonstrated a disregard for the safety of others and a flaunting of responsibility for the harm done to the victim,” the release cited. “Stegall recounted the number of times during the course of the crash and the subsequent investigation during which Barker had attempted to dodge responsibility for her driving behavior and for the harm she had caused to the family. He illustrated how she was trapped in a lie during her testimony by conflicting statements given at trial by her own witnesses.”

Just prior to sentencing, the release cited that Barker told the judge that she was sorry that the victim was hurt, but that she was innocent.

“In issuing his sentence, Judge Nelson reiterated the strong evidence that placed Barker at the scene,” the release cited. “He pointed to the victim’s testimony of the description of the vehicle, of the pieces of the wheel found at the scene which appeared similar to the wheels on Barker’s truck, to the gouge marks in the pavement, and to Barker’s elusive statements to the Troopers and her apparent willingness to talk only once she thought she was no longer exposed to arrest for a potential DUI.”

“Barker’s own testimony placed her on the road where the crash occurred, on the night when the crash occurred, and within a short period of time away from when the crash occurred,” the release continued. “He further emphasized how Barker’s testimony was inconsistent with that of her witness with regard to her presence at the bar earlier in the night. He said he was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that she was at fault in the crash and that she left the scene.”

The release cited that the judge authorized Barker to serve her sentence at Mecklenburg County Jail for weekenders on two-day increments to accommodate her work schedule in South Hill if she is accepted and approved by the jail. Barker has not announced whether she intends to appeal the decision of the court.