No flight this time: Accused hit-and-run Lithuanian appears in court
In her first court appearance, the attractive college athlete charged with nearly killing a highway worker looked little like her puffy-eyed, pink-faced mugshot. Instead, the Lithuania native appeared sober in Albemarle General District Court on August 26.
Sporting long white pants, a dark jacket, and with her shoulder-length blonde hair confined to a bun, 22-year old Vitalija Vasciunaite–- charged with two allegedly alcohol-fueled felonies–- let her attorney do the talking Thursday.
"She looked like a normal college kid," her lawyer David Heilberg said afterward. Alas, Vasciunaite's mid-July arrest has put a halt to her college career, which she may need to remain in the United States.
"We're in a Catch-22," said Heilberg, explaining that trying to obtain a senior-year transfer for a student facing a potential multi-year prison term is proving to be difficult.
New York's St. Francis College, where the young woman's basketball career was to have culminated this year, confirms that she's out. "She will not be returning," says sports information officer David Gansell. "She has lost her scholarship."
Charged with driving under the influence of alcohol as well as felony hit-and-run and felony maiming while intoxicated, Vasciunaite remains free on $15,000 bail, defense attorney Heilberg says, with permission granted Thursday for her to return to New York to retrieve some belongings.
Authorities allege that in the early morning hours of July 17, they took a report of an erratic driver consistent with the description of the 1999 Buick sedan that struck and seriously injured the worker, according to a State Police release. The driver of the Buick fled the scene, but a State Trooper located the vehicle where Vasciunaite was staying.
It turns out that both the car and the temporary home for Vasciunaite belonged to Miller School assistant director of operations Buck Stout, who appeared at Thursday's portion of the hearing to explain the circle of support for Vasciunaite at the Miller School.
"The international kids, for them it becomes home," explains Miller School headmaster Rick France. "They stay connected."
And Vasciunaite, who graduated from Miller in 2007, apparently wasn't just a star athlete. France calls her a "determined" student with "really strong" grades who never gave his administration any trouble.
"She's a great kid–- she's bubbly, and she's hard-working," says France, who taught her English her first year. "This took us all by shock."
Ironically, the highway worker injury occurred less than a mile from the granite marker dedicated to the memory of fallen highway workers. Jose Porfirio Martinez, 50, of Reston, was operating a jackhammer inside a work zone at mile post 103 in a closed-off eastbound lane of I-64 on Afton Mountain at 4:05am when struck.
VDOT spokesperson Lou Hatter says that Martinez was working for Centreville-based Wunna Contracting. Efforts to learn Martinez's condition Thursday were not immediately successful, but defense attorney Heilberg says that Martinez may have "limited recollection" of the incident, and that's why defense and prosecution agreed to put off the rest of the preliminary hearing until September 30.
After Thursday's hearing, Vasciunaite conferred with her mother, a non-English speaker who traveled from Lithuania to assist her daughter. Besides maternal love and the Miller School support, the young woman may soon receive help with substance issues too.
"We're gonna get some treatment for her," said Heilberg.