Ex-teacher pleads guilty to manslaughter

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2008

COURTLAND—A former Teacher of the Year whose 6-year-old son died in a single-vehicle car crash last fall pleaded guilty Thursday to involuntary vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Rebecca Duncan Whitehurst submitted her pleas in what was to have been an arraignment hearing in Southampton Circuit Court. She faces sentencing July 3.

Prosecutors agreed not to pursue charges of child neglect, failure to secure a minor in a vehicle and failure to wear a seat belt in exchange for Whitehurst’s plea of guilty to the felony manslaughter charge and the misdemeanor DUI charge, sources said.

Whitehurst had been found guilty in General District Court of the DUI charge and the restraint charges. She appealed those verdicts and had been scheduled for arraignment on all five charges Thursday morning. Prosecutors got a call earlier in the week notifying them that Whitehurst intended to submit her guilty pleas instead of continuing her defense.

Sometime around 1 a.m. Sept. 15, Whitehurst was driving along Darden Scout Road, with her son in the rear seat, when her sport-utility vehicle ran off the road and flipped over. The boy was thrown from the vehicle.

Whitehurst, who had consumed alcohol at a friend’s jewelry party earlier in the evening, swam across a nearby pond to get help, testimony in General District Court revealed in November.

Shortly after rescue workers arrived on the scene, they declared Dusty Whitehurst to be dead.

A state toxicologist testified in November that test results indicated Whitehurst had been using both alcohol and marijuana sometime prior to the wreck.

Her blood-alcohol content was 0.08, legally impaired, when it was measured three hours after the accident, and it would have been higher at the time that she crashed, said Dr. Les Edinborough. Combined with the marijuana-derived THC in her system, he said, Whitehurst’s driving skills would have been significantly impaired.

Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony in Virginia, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $2,500 fine, or both. Prior to her appeal, the General District Court judge had sentenced Whitehurst to 60 days in jail and loss of her driver’s license for a year for the DUI offense.

Whitehurst was a teacher at Meherrin Elementary School, where her son was a first-grade student. She had been named Teacher of the Year for the 2005-2006 school year. She was suspended from duty following her arrest in connection with the wreck.