Fatal crash: Guilty plea in Garth Road racing charge

Nearly a year after two young men's paths collided on Garth Road, Thomas Clayton Appleton, 25, pleaded guilty to one count of felony racing that caused the death of 18-year-old Samuel Taylor.


Appleton entered the guilty plea July 16 in Albemarle Circuit Court, where Taylor's parents, family, and friends lined three rows of the courtroom. He had also been charged with felony hit-and-run, which was not prosecuted as part of a plea deal.


Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Zug narrated the events of the tragic encounter in the early afternoon of September 5 about 10 miles west of town. A witness, who was turning east onto Garth Road from Millington Road, saw a large, lumbering hay truck turn on Millington that was followed by Taylor's green BMW and a red Chevy Impala.

The two cars sped away on the windy, two-lane road, according to the witness. "Sam had just gotten his license in the previous few weeks," noted Zug.

The witness claimed she saw the two cars take off very fast and pass each other several times, which is disputed by the defendant, who only acknowledges passing once, said Zug.

The pass that's undisputed took place about a mile east toward Charlottesville in the straightaway at Waverly subdivision, where Taylor lived. There, he attempted to pass Appleton, and the two cars came into contact, said Zug. "You agree you were trying to keep him from passing," Albemarle police said to Appleton, who admitted, "yes," recounted Zug.

"Sam goes off the road, hits a stump, and that causes his car to go airborne and hit a tree that was not a sapling, but about five inches in diameter," said Zug.

The roof and frame of the BMW collapsed and hit Taylor's head, said the prosecutor. Taylor, who was declared dead at the scene, died of blunt force trauma, the medical examiner determined, and his passenger was seriously injured.

The witness came around a bend and saw Appleton keep on going, said Zug. "The defendant was going to work at Kroger," he said, and Appleton saw the emergency vehicles as he headed into town.

"I've been upfront with the family," said Zug. "This defendant was not solely the cause. Sam contributed to his own death."

"Mr. Taylor was the one passing on a double-yellow line when the collision occurred," said Appleton's lawyer, Bonnie Lepold. She noted that Appleton had turned himself in and had "completely cooperated" with the investigation.

She also said that according to the statement of Taylor's passenger, Taylor was angry and attempted to pass Appleton even though he was at Waverly, where he was going to turn off.

Appleton will remain free on bond until his sentencing December 18.

After the hearing, Taylor's father said he was not entirely satisfied with the plea agreement. "We don't think it's fair to say it was 50-50," says Rolf Taylor. "We think Appleton was the aggressor. He was blocking Sam when he tried to pass."

Virginia code calls for a one-year mandatory minimum sentence when there's a death from racing, says Rolf Taylor.

"He'll serve some jail time," says Taylor. "It won't bring Sam back."

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