NEWS- Towing tragedy: Wrecker driver to face charges in deaths


The company has been in business for 40 years, says owner Grant Cosner, and this is the first fatal accident.

The driver of a Charlottesville Wrecker tow truck may soon face felony charges for his role in a recent accident that killed a young Culpeper couple and left a third man lingering in a coma six weeks later, his family unsure whether he'll ever awaken. 

The accident happened Saturday, September 1, a day that should have marked the first page in a happy chapter for 19-year-old Victoria "Tori" Burke and her husband, 22-year-old Joshua Burke. The young couple– parents of a newborn daughter– had just signed a lease on a new apartment in Culpeper and had borrowed a pick-up truck from Joshua's father to begin moving in. A friend had offered to help them that Labor Day weekend, and the three were en route together to pick up the Burkes' belongings.

The day that started with the promise of a new home ended that afternoon in tragedy. As Joshua Burke turned from Alanthus Road onto Route 29 in the Brandy Station area at approximately 2pm, the pick-up was struck by a tow truck traveling north on 29 and pulling a small box truck. According to state trooper Jennifer "J.K." Hathaway, 54-year-old Charlottesville Wrecker driver Alvin Randall Thompson ran the red light and struck the Burkes' pickup.

Tori and Josh Burke were killed instantly inside the truck. Their friend, 22-year-old Culpeper resident John Lizotte, was thrown from the vehicle into the median and remains hospitalized at Fairfax Inova Hospital in a coma. None of the three was wearing a seatbelt.

Thompson, who was wearing a seatbelt, was uninjured. While he was originally charged with failure to obey a traffic signal, that misdemeanor infraction was dropped soon after– but his legal troubles may be just beginning.

"We're going to go forward with a more serious charge," says Hathaway, who says that Culpeper Commonwealth's Attorney is determining what charges to levy. 

Hathaway estimates Thompson was traveling approximately 55mph when he went through the light– 5mph below the posted limit of 60mph, but 10mph above the recommended 45mph limit at the intersection, where Route 29 has four lanes in addition to two turn lanes.

Hathaway says Thompson, who lives in Crozet, was not intoxicated, and he was "very upset" at the scene. A phone listing for A.R. Thompson rang without answer, and he could not be located for comment.

Charlottesville Wrecker owner Grant Cosner says Thompson has been a reliable driver for the company for approximately 10 years, has a Class A commercial license, and has not had other driving infractions. Currently Thompson is not driving for the company.

"He is beyond distraught," says Cosner, who believes that once all evidence is reviewed, Thompson will be acquitted of wrongdoing.

"We don't believe he ran that red light," says Cosner, though he declines to discuss details of the case or evidence that exonerates Thompson.

Although no civil suits have yet been filed, the families of the victims have retained counsel and are considering civil action against Thompson and Charlottesville Wrecker.

Culpeper attorney Edwin Gentry, representing the family of Joshua Burke, says Joshua was determined to support his new family. Working as an electrician at the same company his father worked, he had nearly completed the 400 hours of training to become a electrician "journeyman," a designation that allows state licensure.

Tori Burke's parents, Sandy and Kim Gouldman of King George, did not return the Hook's call for comment. According to Gentry, the couple's now four-month-old baby girl is in the care of relatives.

Recent months have witnessed several accidents involving locally based trucks and cars:

• on June 6, a driver was maimed when when two tires came hurtling toward him from a southbound Lethal Wrecker tow truck on Interstate 85 in North Carolina,

• on June 21, William Donald Sprouse of Scottsville lost control of a cement truck on Route 53 and was eventually charged with reckless driving and the involuntary manslaughter of Jessica Lester,

• on August 30, Afton resident Laura Cavedo and her two daughters died when truck driver Shawn Lloyd of Ruckersville allegedly fell asleep and rear-ended their car.

In the Brandy Station accident, Lizotte suffered a severe head injury and has been in a coma since the accident. Reached in her son's Fairfax hospital room, Lizotte's mother, Janet Smoot, declined to comment. Her attorney, Fredericksburg based Edward Allen, says doctors don't know if Lizotte, who worked in landscaping and enjoyed a close relationship with his family, will awaken or if he will even survive. 

Culpeper Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close says charges have not yet been filed because the matter is still under investigation.

[An editing error caused the relationship between accident victim Laura Cavedo and her daughters to be incorrectly stated; it has been corrected in this online edition–editor.]



I hope he gets jail time!!!!

As the mother of Joshua Burke, I want to thank you for writing a very good article.

I have driven big delivery trucks for years and it is often hard to stop at yellow lights as they are timed for cars and too short for trucks. That is why everyone out there should PLEASE make sure the truck is stopping when you get a green light. Sometimes we cannot safely stop and must go through. Do not enter an intersection until it is clear. I am not commenting on this case but I have seen too many accidents caused by people who thought the right of way meant that the coast was clear.

Mr UPS, very true! Thousands of accidents, some fatalities, could be prevented every year if people would simply look right and left before entering an intersection once they receive a green traffic signal. This should be drummed into people's heads at a young age during Driver's Education in the schools.

At some of the intersections along 29 (Rio Road is a good example) the light would be yellow by the time you even entered it if you took the time to look right and left. Not that it isn't a good idea, but I can understand why some people just hit the gas and go.

Shouldn't trucks drive more slowly if they know that the lights are timed for cars, and not trucks, and they know that it's harder for them to stop? I mean, the speed limit is not a minimum speed--you CAN go slower, and it seems to me that you should, if you know that your vehicle is (by the laws of physics) less capable of being stopped quickly?

I'm not saying drivers entering intersections shouldn't look both ways before going; I just don't think any truck drivers should use the greater mass of their vehicle as an excuse for running through a red light.

When we drive slower people cut us off, change lanes to get around us and many of us are paid by the mile. We also have GPS that lets our bosses know the speed we are travelling. We also have a right to use the road. It is poor government planning to mistime the lights.

The answer is to lenghten yellows, especially on a road like 29 and especially when the truck that needs to stop is pointing downhill.

The second thing is my original advice which is to look both ways before you enter an intersection.

At 1st I was going to say Mr. UPS was a whiner. But I decided to work a few numbers and see if what he said was true. The man is absolutely correct:
Let Mc = 1,000 kg (mass of a typical car)
Let Mt = 5,000 kg (mass of a typical truck.. give or take a bit)
45 mph is about 20 meters/second, kinetic energy is (1/2)*m*v^2.
So.. if Vc (velocity of the car) is 20 m/s it's kinetic energy is 200,000 Joules. If the truck has the same velocity as the auto it's kinetic energy is 1,000,000 Joules. For the car to have the same kinetic energy as the truck it must be traveling at (about) 45 meters/second. That's 100 mph. So a truck that is 5X more massive than a typical auto requires the same "stopping power" (power is dKE/dt) as that typical auto going 100 mph. Clearly trucks are designed with this in mind but it still makes it evident that trucks are much more difficult to stop than cars.
So.. simply put I would rather look both ways before I pulled out than to have the judge posthumously decide I was in the right and had the right of way.
Do with this information whatever you think is appropriate.

I still think something should be done. He being an experienced driver should know that a stale green light will turn at anytime.

My heart is devistated for the family of these two young people. And there precious little daughter. And the other young fellow. Its very sad. May God Bless!!!