West Virginia officer not charged with off-duty strikes and killing of 13-year-old with squad car

CHARLESTON W.Va. (AP) — An off-duty deputy sheriff in West Virginia who hit and killed a 13-year-old girl The prosecutor investigating the case will not be prosecuted for her death.

Cabell County’s special attorney, Mark Sorsaia, found that the “tragic loss” of 13-year-old Jacqueline “Laney” Hudson in December 2022 was a “direct result” of her own erratic behavior while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, according to a letter dated Thursday in which former Cabell County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Racer was acquitted of negligence.

It “severely impaired her judgment and ability to make rational decisions, which subsequently resulted in her running in front of the car,” wrote Sorsaia, who is also a Putnam County prosecutor.

But Tyler Haslam, attorney for the Hudson family, said they still had questions that needed to be answered. For one thing, they want to know how fast the off-duty deputy was driving in the sheriff’s marked cruiser when he met him.

A state police accident reconstruction expert couldn’t determine exactly how fast the squad car was moving when it hit Hudson because its “black box” – which normally records this information – wasn’t activated, Sorsaia said.

The family was not surprised by the prosecutor’s decision, their lawyer said in a statement on Friday.

“The racer’s actions resulted in the fatal accident of a teenage pedestrian and left a family heartbroken,” her family wrote. “Despite our disappointment with the decision of the special attorney, we remain steadfast in our pursuit of justice.”

The family said they look forward to “looking at the entire state’s investigation as soon as it’s released to compare it to our own.”

Hudson was killed just after 10:30 p.m. on December 30, 2022 in the state’s second-largest city, Huntington — with a population of just under 50,000 — where she was with a group of teenagers at an intersection.

Racer, who was placed on administrative leave after Hudson’s death and resigned months later, was driving his squad car after hours because he was staying at his girlfriend’s house and needed it for work in the morning, the prosecutor said.

Racer was going green at the intersection when Hudson and another teenager ran into the lane, Sorsaia said. He tried to stop but couldn’t avoid hitting Hudson. The other child was not injured. According to prosecutors, Racer stayed at the scene and called 911.

According to Sorsaia, a subsequent autopsy revealed that Hudson had alcohol and marijuana in her system when she died. Police officials said Hudson was intoxicated from drinking beer and smoking synthetic marijuana — commonly known as K2, or spice — and was “significantly impaired” when she ran into the street in front of Racer’s vehicle.

Video taken by state police from Hudson’s phone after her death showed the children running around the street at the intersection before the accident.

“It is well known in law enforcement circles that smoking K2-spiked marijuana in a young individual can significantly affect behavior and impair judgment and physical actions,” Sorsaia wrote.

Two sobriety tests – including a preliminary breath test that showed a blood alcohol level of 0.000 – revealed that there was “no evidence of impairment” in Racer’s case.

The prosecutor found no grounds to charge Racer under the state’s involuntary manslaughter statute, which requires evidence of driving in “willful, wanton disregard for the safety of others.”

Even if he was speeding, that wouldn’t justify a manslaughter charge, Sorsaia said.

“It has to be a conscious choice that you know will put the lives of others at risk,” he wrote.

Estimates by state police reconstruction teams, which analyzed skid marks and other factors, suggested the racer’s speed was between 47 and 55 mph — at least 10 to 20 mph over the top speed.

Sorsaia said 49mph was the average speed in February when police conducted an hour-long radar scan of 63 vehicles that passed through the intersection where Hudson died.

While the survey doesn’t rule out the possibility of Racer speeding, it found that his speed was “well within the average speed limits used by people using that particular spot on the road,” Sorsaia concluded.

Haslam, the attorney for Hudson’s family, said his firm was conducting its own investigation and analyzing law enforcement’s findings.

“Honestly, I don’t care about the average speed at this intersection. “There is a posted speed limit,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “We expect all citizens, but particularly those in designated patrol vehicles, to obey the speed limit unless there is an emergency.” The report released yesterday made it very clear that there was no emergency.

A negligent homicide conviction could have carried a year in prison, a $100 to $1,000 fine, or both. The driver’s license would have been revoked.


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