Testimony recounts tragic night

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 20, 2007

COURTLAND—Rebecca Duncan Whitehurst showed no visible emotional reaction to a judge’s guilty verdict on a charge of drunken driving in an accident that took the life of her 6-year-old son in September.

But when she heard witnesses describe the events that transpired following the tragic wreck in a field beside Darden Scout Road, the pain of her loss became apparent.

Whitehurst, who still faces felony charges of manslaughter and child neglect, cried quietly as emergency workers testified in court Tuesday about the condition of the boy when they arrived on the scene in the early hours of Sept. 15.

Ricky Hatfield of Medical Transport Inc. said Whitehurst became hysterical when she realized medics were no longer working on her son, who had not been properly secured in his seat and was thrown from the sport utility vehicle when it ran off the road and flipped over.

&uot;She was upset and crying, wondering why we were not doing anything for her son,&uot; Hatfield told the prosecutor in Whitehurst’s trial on four misdemeanor charges stemming from the accident. &uot;She kept asking, ‘Is he dead? I’ve killed him! I think I’ve killed him! Oh, my God!’&uot;

In fact, emergency medical services providers found there was nothing they could do for Dusty Whitehurst when they arrived on the scene. Lying on his side in the field 10 to 15 feet behind the car, the boy already had grown cold by the time police and medics arrived, said Hatfield’s partner on the call, William E. Meiggs III.

Meiggs said he found that the boy had no pulse and no heartbeat and was bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. He called Southampton Memorial Hospital and consulted the attending emergency room physician, who agreed that attempts to resuscitate the boy would be futile.

Meiggs pronounced Dusty dead on the scene at 1:46 a.m., 10 minutes after arriving.

According to estimates put forward in court, the accident had occurred about 45 minutes earlier. Witnesses testified that Rebecca Whitehurst told them at the time that she had swum across a pond near the scene of the accident in an effort to find help.

&uot;She said she had gone for help 30 to 40 minutes ago,&uot; Meiggs said of his discussion with the mother. &uot;I don’t believe she remembered everything that had happened.&uot;

Whitehurst was a teacher at Meherrin Elementary School. Dusty was a first-grader at the school.

Whitehurst was taken to the hospital, where Trooper J.W. Carr charged her with driving under the influence based on her failing two sobriety tests. A blood test would later show her blood-alcohol content to be 0.08, legally impaired, at 4:18 a.m., more than three hours after the wreck and almost seven hours after she had stopped drinking martinis at a party, according to the testimony of

friend Vicky Wells.

Wells testified that Whitehurst had attended a jewelry party at her house the night of Sept. 14 and had left between midnight and 12:15 a.m. She said Whitehurst had consumed three martinis during the visit.

A state forensic toxicologist estimated that the level of alcohol in Whitehurst’s blood at the time of her blood test would have corresponded to a 0.12 level at the time of the accident. However, he argued that her blood-alcohol level at the time of the test was &uot;inconsistent with the testimony&uot; of only three drinks.

Dr. Les Edinborough also pointed out that traces of THC in her blood were sufficient to have caused her impairment on their own. Added to the alcohol in her system, the marijuana the evidence showed Whitehurst had smoked would have had a detrimental effect on her driving skills, he said.

&uot;You hear so much in the community about how marijuana is basically a harmless drug,&uot; Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack T. Randall said in arguing for a stiff sentence for the DUI conviction. &uot;The doctor opened my eyes&uot; about the additive effects the drug has when mixed with alcohol.

Combined with Whitehurst’s failure to secure her child in a car seat, driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana was a criminal act that should be punished much more severely than the average DUI, he argued.

&uot;All of these toxic combinations coming together resulted in the death of a small child,&uot; Randall said. &uot;Judge, this is not your average DUI. This is nowhere near your average DUI. Your average DUI does not have a dead 6-year-old child.&uot;

Judge John Baker, substituting on the bench in Southampton’s General District Court on Tuesday, sentenced Whitehurst to 60 days in jail and suspended her driver’s license for a year for the DUI conviction. An appeal of that conviction is expected.

Judge Baker also certified the felony charges to the county’s Circuit Court for presentation to a grand jury. Whitehurst is be arraigned on those charges in February.