FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — A Northern Virginia lawmaker said Fairfax County police failed to “go the extra mile” when it investigated a distracted driving accident that killed an 86-year-old grandfather.
“If they called the crash reconstruction unit, you know, I'm not clear why they wouldn't have gone the extra mile to get that phone and take it apart and figure out exactly what they were dealing with,” said Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell, who represents parts of Fairfax County, has worked to strengthen Virginia’s distracted driving laws.
He argues a digital forensic exam of the driver’s cellphone can prove if someone is texting at the time of an accident, which was a determining factor in a case he brought as a civil attorney on behalf of a family whose loved one died in a distracted driving accident.
“In that case, it was absolutely critical,” Surovell said. “Because if they hadn't done the forensic examination on the phone, nobody would have really been able to explain what happened.”
When 86-year-old William Glass died from injuries suffered in a distracted driving accident his family was shocked at Fairfax County’s form of justice.
The driver of the truck that slammed into Glass’s minivan in April 2022 on Fairfax County Parkway, Leonel Alvarado, walked out of court with only a $125 fine, $192 with court costs.
Glass’s granddaughter, Callie Williams, said the outcome was unacceptable for the family.
“No, not at all,” Williams said.
The $125 fine and no jail time for Alvarado came after the Commonwealth Attorney’s office downgraded the detective’s initial classification of “reckless driving” which is punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail to holding a phone while operating a vehicle.
Williams said the family “absolutely” feels betrayed by the court system.
“We do,” said Glass’s wife of 55 years, Phairak.
But the Glass family believes it wasn’t just the courts that betrayed them, because Fairfax County Police failed to do a digital forensic exam of the driver’s cellphone.
“How do they know that person was only on GPS when they were holding their phone?” said Jennifer Smith, CEO of Stopdistractions.org.
“For the Fairfax PD to not do a forensic analysis – so you they just take someone's word on it? They should have done that analysis,” Smith said.
Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis declined repeated interview requests for this report through a spokesperson.
That spokesperson only agreeing to address WUSA9’s questions via email.
But Fairfax County Police’s answers to three different questions about why investigators failed to do that forensic exam on the driver’s cellphone, were all virtually the same.
Repeating only a passenger in the truck that slammed into William Glass’s minivan saw the cellphone in the drivers’ hands prior to the crash.
Police body cam video shows investigators talking to that passenger.
The spokesperson also telling WUSA9, since the driver ultimately told police he was using his phone’s GPS for directions at the time of impact investigators had enough for the misdemeanor distracted driving charge.
But the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office told us that “passenger witness” police were relying so heavily on, later disappeared. And as a result, there was no way for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorneys to meet the legal standard in Virginia for additional criminal charges.
“There's no justice, no nothing,” Williams said. “What's going to stop them from doing it again?
Surovell said a digital forensic exam on the phone could have revealed the driver was doing more than just checking GPS, like texting, at the time of impact. That could potentially give prosecutors the evidence they needed to take that more serious reckless driving charge to court.
Surovell is now considering legislation that would safeguard digital forensic evidence in distracted driving cases.
“Whether that’s you know, send a letter to the to the phone carrier, asking them to preserve whatever data they have, so they can be used a year or two later, or whether it's having better standards for law enforcement in terms of gathering this information,” Surovell said.
Information William Glass’s family believes could have led to more than a $125 fine for the driver who killed their loved one.
In 2019, a distracted driver in Chesterfield County, Virginia was charged with involuntary manslaughter for a distracted driving crash that killed 56-year-old Karen Giles. The driver, Samuel Allebaugh, was texting at the time of the accident. He served an eight-month prison sentence and later became a spokesperson against distracted driving.