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Woman to serve 16 years for wreck fatality

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

WISE COUNTY — A 60-year-old woman who admitted being “a little drunk” when she hit another vehicle head-on a year ago will serve 16 years in prison.

Laya Maude Belcher pleaded guilty in June to aggravated involuntary manslaughter and impaired driving. The pleas were part of a bare plea agreement in which no sentence was recommended.

The court imposed a 21-year sentence, but five years was suspended. Upon release from custody Belcher will be placed on 10 years of probation, three years of which will be supervised.

The charges stemmed from Sept. 23, 2020 wreck on U.S. 23. Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said the investigation showed Belcher was driving a Ford Explorer north in the southbound lane of U.S. 23 when it collided head-on with a southbound Hyundai Santa Fe SUV around 8:13 p.m. The female driver of the Hyundai died at the scene.

Slemp said Belcher told officers at the scene of the crash she was “a little drunk, not a lot drunk, just a little.” She also told officers she consumed four or five shots of alcohol within an hour of the wreck.

Although she refused field sobriety tests, a blood sample taken after the wreck found her blood alcohol content (BAC) to be over three times the legal limit of .08. Belcher’s BAC was .256.

During the sentencing hearing, it was revealed to the court that Belcher has two prior convictions of impaired driving. Slemp said she was convicted in Scott County in 2002 and in Sullivan County, Tenn. in 2009.

“This is a tragic and heartbreaking case. An innocent life was senselessly taken by the selfish, reckless acts of a repeat offending drunk driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.256,” Slemp told the court.

The prosecutor pointed out more than 10,000 people are killed by drunk driving crashes annually, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.

“That’s just outrageous,” Slemp added.

Belcher continues to be held at Southwest Virginia Regional Jail pending transfer to a Virginia Department of Corrections facility.

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