New Kent Charles City Chronicle

News for New Kent County and Charles City County, Virginia | June 4, 2020

Road rage incident in New Kent results in guilty conviction for Williamsburg man

By Andre Jones | November 4, 2019 5:15 pm

A road rage incident on Interstate 64 in New Kent has resulted in multiple guilty convictions for a Williamsburg man.

Bernard Betrum Bethel, 28, of the 4900 block of Helen Potts Place, Williamsburg, was found guilty one charge each of throwing a projectile at a vehicle and misdemeanor driving without a license during a contested trial Monday in New Kent Circuit Court. Bethel pled no contest on a lone count of failing to appear on a felony charge.

On Apr. 26, 2018, Jennifer Smith Brown was commuting to work on Interstate 64 westbound from her home in York County. Around the 220-mile marker (West Point exit) in New Kent, traffic became congested. At that time, she noticed a dark blue Sedan tailgating her.

“The vehicle was so close that I couldn’t see the bumper,” Brown testified. “I can tell he was agitated because he was making hand gestures at me.”

Brown continued testifying how she could not move her vehicle over to the next lane due to a white convertible adjacent to her and a semi-truck in front of her. Once a little space was created, the blue Sedan merged to the right lane, and that’s when Brown heard a noise.

“It looked like he threw a glass bottle at me,” she said, hearing a crashing side along the frame of the passenger side door.

Brown continued by saying that the blue Sedan got in front of her car and began to impede the flow of traffic by slowing down in front of her and slamming brakes. Looking to avoid a collision, she moved into the right lane, only for the blue car to get in front of her. Around the rest area at mile marker 214, Brown said the driver of the blue car began to wave their hand and tell them to go into the rest area parking lot.

“I wasn’t trying to do that,” commented Brown. “I was hoping that the person would move on and keep going about their business.”

But when Brown did not merge over as the blue Sedan was in the lane to exit, the Sedan quickly entered back onto the interstate, cutting off Brown. From there, Brown said another bottle was thrown out the window, crashing in front of her.

“That’s when I called the dispatcher and pulled to the side of the road,” continued the witness.

The driver of the blue car, later identified as Bethel, pulled to the side of the road as well. Bethel walked to Brown’s car, allegedly shouting at her while he had his cell phone out to take a picture of her license plate. Brown was still on the phone with the dispatcher as Bethel drove away from the scene.

A responding state trooper eventually caught up with Bethel at the construction zone near mile marker 206 before initiating a traffic stop at the weight scales just across the Henrico border. From there, the officer interviewed the suspect about the incident. The trooper indicated through testimony that the defendant was very agitated and used inappropriate language upon the traffic stop in reference to the incident.

Bethel’s recollection of the events indicated that Brown was the initiator of the road rage.

“When I was driving, I sped up a little and she slammed on brakes,” he said. “I know it’s an unwritten rule that if you’re in the left lane and somebody speeds up, then the car in front of you should speed up.”

Bethel said he slowed up and merged to the right lane and Brown merged in front of him and slammed the brakes once again. That is when Bethel commented that he sped up to get her license’s plate.

“I was going to call it in when I got to work,” he said. “I was going to report that she was driving erratically.”

In the instance where both vehicles pulled off to the shoulder of the road, the defendant said he did that so that Brown could pass by and he could get her license plate when that happened.

“She pulled over behind me and that’s when I got out and took pictures of her plate,” Bethel commented. “I got back in the car and that’s when she merged back in and began to follow me.”

After hearing bother versions of the story, Judge B. Elliott Bondurant said he considered all the evidence in the totality of the events that took place.

“Credibility is what it boils down to,” the judge said. “Right now though, I’m looking at that as a key in this case.

“I am hearing that the defendant was in an accident the day before this case was originally supposed to be heard but there is no evidence that it happened,” Bondurant continued, referencing Bethel’s no contest plea to the failure to appear charge. “He was also told not to leave the Commonwealth of Virginia but he did that as well. Finally, he has no license for the Commonwealth of Virginia despite living here for three years before he moved back to Florida.

“I just find the witness [Ms. Brown] more credible,” the judge concluded.

Formal sentencing for Bethel is scheduled for Dec. 16.

In other circuit court matters:

–Joshua Lynn Escalera, 29, of the 6200 block of Ice Plant Road, Gloucester, entered guilty pleas to two counts of felony hit and run and one count of felony assault and battery on a law enforcement officer as part of a plea agreement. One charge of misdemeanor resisting arrest was dropped.

In a summary of evidence provided by Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Linwood Gregory, on Apr. 7 just after 2 a.m., a Virginia State Trooper received a call that a chase was heading to Interstate 64 that commenced in King & Queen. The trooper saw the vehicle and began chasing it westbound on Interstate 64 at speeds that reached 120 miles per hour. During the chase, the suspect hit a white jeep. The trooper was able to get in front of the vehicle and attempted to perform a rolling roadblock before his vehicle was struck as well. Eventually the driver, later identified as Escalera, crashed off the right side of the road in the construction zone near mile marker 206. He was arrested and taken into custody.

Under the plea agreement, Escalara received a five-year sentence with four years, one month suspended on the assault and battery of a law enforcement officer. (Six months of the 11 months imposed is mandatory time under state statute). All five years on each of the two felony hit and run charges were suspended. He must also pay restitution in the amount of $1,499.60 for damage caused to the police vehicle.

–Luis Alejandro Pirela-Lineras, 23, of the 1700 block of Forest Glen Road, Richmond, entered Alford Pleas of guilt to two counts of distribution of marijuana as part of a plea deal. One count of distribution of cocaine was dropped as part of the agreement. An Alford Plea of guilt means that while the defendant maintains his innocence, evidence presented in the case would be enough to convict him of the crime.

In a summary of evidence, New Kent’s Sheriff’s Office and the Twin Rivers Drug Task Force received a tip from a confidential informant about a possible suspect selling drugs. The confidential informant identified Pirela-Lineras, allowing law enforcement to set up a controlled by at the informant’s house on Feb. 8. Shortly after 7 p.m., the defendant arrived to the informant’s house and sold them one pound of marijuana for $2,000. Pirela-Lineras left the premises, with deputies conducting a traffic stop and arresting the defendant on the crime. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of another pound of marijuana along with the $2,000 received in the control buy.

Under the plea agreement, Pirela-Lineras received a 10-year sentence with all but 360 days suspended on the first count of distribution of marijuana. All 10 years on the second charge were suspended. The defendant must also pay a fine of $5,000.