House-scalping: Teen sentenced in notorious, puzzling incident
The Charlottesville High School student-athlete arrested last fall for a death-defying, house-scalping car crash has been given time behind bars to flex his remorse muscles after a judge–- expressing shock that the teen did his most dangerous deed just two months after a conviction for a similar crime–- ordered Tsaye Simpson to remain inside the juvenile justice system for three and a half years.
"It doesn't look like being found guilty has any effect on him," said an irked Judge Paul Peatross, ordering Simpson to remain locked up until his 21st birthday. If Simpson errs again, Peatross said, the court could impose the suspended portion of the sentence: 22 years in Virginia's adult penal system.
The case follows an incident last August when then 17-year-old Simpson burgled a house in the Johnson Village neighborhood while the owners slept, stole their car, and then led police on an 85 mile-per-hour chase along Rugby Road that ended in a spectacular–- and puzzling–- crash. He was convicted of grand larcency, breaking and entering, eluding arrest, and leaving the scene of an accident.
Appearing Wednesday, June 9 inside Charlottesville Circuit Court, the now 18-year-old Simpson–- described as a standout player for CHS basketball and football teams–- shuffled in wearing handcuffs, shackles, and the distinctive gray and black uniform of the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. Staring impassively around the room, the lean teen with close-cropped hair and beard was repeatedly asked by the judge as well as his own lawyer if he would make a statement to demonstrate his regret. He declined.
"He said all he has to say," said Alyssa Oakes, after the hearing. "He already wrote an apology letter."
Oakes, who described herself as Simpson's girlfriend–- though noting that her parents have prevented her from visiting her incarcerated former schoolmate–- asserts Simpson's innocence.
"They only have one person who said he did it," says Oakes, noting that investigators did not recover any fingerprints, blood, or other physical evidence linking Simpson to the Ford Five Hundred sedan found crumpled and upside down in a backyard near the intersection of Rugby and Barracks Roads.
Surrounded by four other female CHS students and self-avowed Simpson fans, Oakes asserted that Simpson pleaded merely to avoid stiffer punishment from a system "trying to set him up." However, Simpson's own attorney made no such protests. After all, just two months before the burglary and house-scalping of August 7, Simpson already had garnered two juvenile convictions–- but was free while awaiting sentencing–- for similar crimes.
"It is unfathomable," defense attorney Christopher Graham told the judge, "what caused him to do these acts–- breaking into people's homes and taking their cars for what were essentially joy rides."
Prosecutor Elizabeth Killeen took a particularly dim view of Simpson's target on that fateful night: the Highland Avenue home of Nancy and Jack Horn Sr., the latter the founder of Martin Horn, one of the area's largest construction companies and–- in what Killeen sarcastically called a "remarkable coincidence"–- the firm that had terminated Simpson's father's employment a year earlier.
For his part, Horn, though noting that he hasn't yet received any apology, contends that it really may have been a coincidence. But house choice may been the least of Simpson's mistakes. According to Killeen, there were several whoppers:
- a come-pick-me-up call he placed moments after the crash to a friend via Horn's cell phone,
- a don't-snitch-on-me text message, again via Horn's phone, sent to the friend moments after a police debriefing, and
- an incriminating phone call (which the friend put on speaker) when police returned to re-interrogate the friend.
Father Earl Simpson, who also has a daughter, testified to maintaining close relationships with his children, who lost their mother at a young age, "to keep them away from corruption."
Killeen seemed sympathetic to the family's plight, and in agreeing not to seek adult prison time, she noted that only two or three juveniles during her 11-year career deserved such punishment. (One was a child rapist; another slit a woman's throat while informing her she'd been cut by a "real killer.")
However, Killeen bristled at the way the dad had claimed that his son was falsely accused in the earlier burglaries and how the younger Simpson maintained "stone-cold innocence" until eventually pleading guilty.
The younger Simpson was a "good student and a smart young man," said an official who helped Simpson write apology letters to some of his victims.
"He was exemplary in his thoughtfulness and cooperation," testified the official, David Saunier, coordinator of the Central Virginia Restorative Justice Program. "I believe that he was genuinely sincere."
Saunier wasn't the only powerful force smiling on Simpson. If the latest guilty plea was genuine, Simpson somehow piloted a stolen sedan 85mph–- slower than the cruising speed of some small planes–- through a garage, a house, a tree, and then remained uninjured as the vehicle came to rest on its roof about 100 yards from and nearly 50 feet below the sidewalk where take-off occurred. (A neighbor expressed surprise that the wreckage revealed no corpse when finally flipped upright by a tow truck.)
The incident caused over $100,000 in damage to the home of a couple, who were displaced to a hotel and then to an apartment for the nearly four-month course of repairs, and the City of Charlottesville had to rebuild the intersection with a new guardrail and traffic signal to replace infrastructure shorn away by the flying Ford.
Yet police found neither cuts nor bruises while interviewing Simpson within 48 hours of the crash, according to his lawyer. The case remained officially unsolved until mid-October, when Simpson was arrested, putting an end to his senior year at CHS and delaying his plan to enter Piedmont Virginia Community College.
As part of the sentence, Simpson must remain on good behavior for 25 years, avoid his burglary victims, and pay up to a quarter of his post-release income toward the nearly $16,000 that State Farm insurance spent for the totaled car.
"Obviously, you've got great potential," said Judge Peatross. "I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to get some help and right your life."