A Chesterfield County judge struggled to decide what a life was worth Thursday in sentencing an Alabama man who was “decent and good” but made a “very stupid mistake” in a drunken-driving crash that killed a Chesterfield mother of two last year.
“What is a person’s life worth?” Chesterfield Circuit Judge Frederick G. Rockwell III said from the bench in addressing the defendant, Christopher B. Brasher, 33, and the family of the woman he killed when his vehicle slammed into hers at high speed while he was intoxicated. “I don’t know.”
The judge said he struggled with that question Wednesday night as he pondered the circumstances of the crash, the death of 45-year-old Dorothy Diane “Dee Dee” Beach of Chester and the otherwise exemplary life of Brasher — who never shirked his responsibility and wept Thursday as he listened to testimony about how Beach’s death had forever changed the lives of her family.
“I think you’re a good and decent man,” Rockwell told the 33-year-old former CSX engineer, but the judge also noted that Brasher made a “very stupid, stupid mistake.” Finding the right balance between justice and mercy, Rockwell said, was a “daunting task.”
The judge decided on a prison term of 10 years with eight years suspended, which was near the high end of recommended state sentencing guidelines based on Brasher’s social history, clean record and other circumstances.
That leaves Brasher two years to serve, but he will get credit for the nine months he already has spent behind bars after the May 14 crash.
Brasher, whose permanent residence is in Camp Hill, Ala., was living in Botetourt County at the time of the wreck, and his work territory as a CSX employee included Chesterfield.
On the evening of May 14, Brasher was drinking with friends at the Uptown Alley lounge in Chesterfield, where he consumed five to six beers, and then later at Riptides Seafood Restaurant, where he drank four more beers, Chesterfield prosecutor Robert J. Fierro said the evidence would show.
As Brasher left the restaurant, he got into a “fender-bender” in the parking lot that wasn’t reported to police. “That forced him to pause for a moment, but it didn’t stop him,” Fierro told the court. “He didn’t stop driving.”
Then, as he drove off and traveled down state Route 10, he stopped briefly at the side of the road to relieve himself. “But that didn’t stop him,” the prosecutor said.
Witnesses later told police that they saw Brasher’s 2014 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup traveling erratically and sometimes aggressively at a high speed.
About 8 p.m., while driving on Branders Bridge Road, Brasher crossed the double yellow line and struck a 2013 Chevrolet Cruz being driven by Beach. “It was absolutely catastrophic damage,” Fierro said of the impact to Beach’s car.
Brasher was traveling at 70 to 80 mph at the time of the crash along a stretch of road with a posted speed limit of 40 mph. Beach was driving at 40 mph.
Beach was killed instantly, as was a small dog traveling with her.
Police found a cooler in the back of Brasher’s truck full of beer, but there were no empty containers and authorities couldn’t determine whether he had consumed any of those. Two hours after the crash, Brasher’s blood alcohol content was 0.183 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit to drive.
Beach’s daughter-in-law, Heather Beach, testified that her mother-in-law was “overjoyed” at the birth of her first grandchild, Isabella, about a year before her death and spent time watching the child for the first two months of her life. “She was always there,” Heather Beach said.
A former Chesterfield police chaplain and volunteer at Riverside Regional Jail, where Brasher is being held, testified that Brasher expressed great remorse for his actions and deep concern for Beach’s family. Because he could not contact the Beach family himself, Brasher asked the pastor to intercede in sharing his sorrow and regret.
Attorney Ted Bruns said his client never wanted to pursue a defense strategy that would minimize his responsibility for the crash.
“I have respect for the law and law enforcement,” Brasher told the court, adding: “What happened is completely out of my character and doesn’t define who I am.”