Lithuanian: 'Oh, my God. I didn't know I hit someone'
It was an emotional Thursday morning as the young Lithuanian woman accused in a near-fatal summertime hit-and-run heard directly from the construction worker she allegedly crippled. Ironically, the July 17 incident at mile marker 103.2 on eastbound Interstate 64 occurred within sight of the massive granite marker that reminds drivers of the lives lost by Virginia highway workers.
Dabbing her welling eyes with tissues provided by a sheriff's deputy, 22-year-old Vitalija Vasciunaite also covered her mouth and cried quietly as Jose Porfirio Martinez-Quinteros testified about the car that invaded the coned-off eastbound right lane where he had just finished jack-hammering concrete forms.
"It happened so suddenly," the Spanish-speaking Martinez-Quinteros said through a translator. "I heard two of the cones being hit, and I looked up and saw the lights, and then it hit me. It actually threw me 20 feet."
Martinez-Quinteros, who reportedly hasn't worked since the incident, appeared for the September 30 preliminary criminal hearing with his right arm and right leg still encased in casts and moved slowly with the aid of a walker through Albemarle Circuit Court. He has filed a $5.35-million civil suit in the same court.
Another motorist on I-64 that night testified how she had tried to warn authorities about a menace on the highway even before the crash occurred. Dara Cole of Stuarts Draft told the court she first saw a dark Buick parked on a shoulder just west of Afton Mountain. When it started moving, the car would go about 50 miles per hour and suddenly change lanes.
"It was obvious to me that the vehicle was driving erratically, and I wasn't going to take a chance going around it," said Cole, testifying that she dialed 911 on both sides of the mountain before losing sight of the vehicle as it sped up in the vicinity of the rest area about a mile past the collision site.
Senior State Trooper Thomas M. Skehan explained how he saw the injured construction worker getting treated by medics before he set off in pursuit of the vehicle. He found it at the Miller School, where Vasciunaite had been living as a guest of her alma mater at the apartment of school employee Carl "Buck" Stout.
Stout testified he had been experiencing such a nasty cough that evening, he decided rather than try to sleep he'd sit outdoors at a small table. Around 4am, he said, the 1999 Buick he had lent Vasciunaite to attend a party in Harrisonburg returned.
"She backed the car into the slot and sat there for a few minutes before getting out," Stout testified. "She stumbled a little bit, but she'd hurt her back earlier that day, so I thought maybe she was a little stiff."
Then Stout noticed something else: "She was slurring her words a little bit."
Later, Stout noticed a broken headlight and a broken mirror, and the passenger window was missing. He confronted his guest who, he said, claimed that an unknown object had struck the car. When Stout's ex-wife called from Palmyra to say that police were looking for the Buick, Stout called the police.
Trooper Skehan testified that the vehicular damage he saw included a broken bumper and a dented quarter panel and that Vasciunaite first pleaded ignorance about hitting anything.
"Then she changed her story," says Skehan, "and said, 'I know I hit something. Was it in the area of the work zone?'"
Skehan informed her that it was a human.
"She said, 'Oh, my god–- I didn't know I hit someone.'"
At 8:59am, at least five hours after the crash, police reportedly measured Vasciunaite's blood-alcohol content at .15, nearly twice the legal limit.
For Vasciunaite–- appearing in court wearing tight stone-washed jeans, black stilletos, and a long-sleeved grey t-shirt reading "Peace Billabong"–- Thursday's hearing was her first courtroom appearance since August 26. Neither she nor her business-suited attorney David Heilberg offered any comment after substitute judge David Franzen certified the felony hit-and-run and felony maiming-while-intoxicated charges.
Prosecutor Jon Zug said a misdemeanor driving-under-the-influence charge may also get certified when the grand jury meets December 6. A former basketball player whose college career ended with the charges, Vasciunaite remains free on $15,000 bail.