The billionaire co-owner of the Mars Inc. candy company pleaded guilty Dec. 5 to misdemeanor reckless driving, stemming from an Oct. 4 crash that killed one woman and injured several others.
Jacqueline Badger Mars, 74, was sentenced to a six month suspended license and will have to pay a $2,500 fine, a decision supported by the victims, who urged the court not to impose the maximum one-year jail sentence.
“We only have forgiveness in our heart for her,” said Sharon Acker, who was in the van and whose daughter miscarried her baby because of the accident. “We hope she, too, will find peace.”
According to a proffer of facts read at the 8:30 a.m. hearing, the crash occurred on Route 50 in Aldie, near Briar Patch Park. Mars was driving a 2004 Porsche SUV. She drifted into the left lane, hitting a minivan carrying six passengers head-on.
The riders in the minivan were preparing for a wedding the following day.
Irene Ellisor, 86, of Huntsville, Texas, was thrown about the van and ultimately died from injuries suffered in the wreck. She was not wearing a seatbelt.
Three other occupants were seriously injured, including driver Ashley Blakeslee, also from Texas. Blakeslee, who was eight months pregnant with her third child, Charlie, was pinned against the wheel of the car.
She was extricated and taken to the hospital, where she remained unconscious for days. Charlie was delivered via cesarean section, but took a significant amount of the force, possibly, doctors say, saving his mother's life.
“They told their two children, 'Charlie protected mommy and went to heaven so mommy could stay here with them,'” Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann read of Blakeslee and her husband, Travis, from the proffer.
Ashley Blakeslee would ultimately stay in the hospital for a month.
After investigating the incident, police determined that Mars was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and only routine medication was found in her blood. She was not speeding or driving erratically prior to the incident, and phone records indicate she had not been texting or calling anyone. She also did not suffer any medical event, such as a seizure or heart attack.
Mars said that she fell asleep while driving.
The prosecution read statements from the victims, all of whom expressed grief but implored the court to avoid jail time for Mars.
“What we saw today was a great moment in human forgiveness and compassion,” Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman said of the victims and their families.
Earlier this week, Mars traveled down to Texas to see Blakeslee.
“I can't go back in time,” Mars said solemnly. “But I will always live with the grief and loss caused by this tragedy.”
Her attorney, Robin Gulick, also emphasized her remorse.
“She will put on that blanket of sorrow and regret and wear it every day,” Gulick said.
Deborah Welsh, who sentenced Mars, called the incident a “tragic accident.”
“Unfortunately, it resulted in fatalities and injuries,” Welsh continued.
When pressed about there not being jail time at a press conference after the case, Plowman noted there are traffic fatalities in Loudoun regularly, many of which don't even offer the penalty of jail time.
He dismissed notions that Mars, who Forbes lists as being worth more than $20 billion, received any preferential treatment, and instead said her case was probably more scrutinized than others.
Though there is a no civil suit clause, Kent Jarrell, Mars' spokesman, said financial issues would be handled appropriately by insurance and the family.
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