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I-95 driver charged in chain-reaction crash

Clair Elizabeth Wenzel .png
Posted at 4:02 PM, May 11, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Virginia driver has now been charged in connection to a multi-vehicle, chain-reaction crash on Interstate 95 in Henrico County last October that resulted in the death of Claire Wenzel. However, Wenzel's family said they're not happy with the charges.

Luis Javier Quinones was charged with a misdemeanor first-offense driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Quinones made his first court appearance Thursday morning in Henrico County where a judge granted him bond.

The prosecutor argued for no bond saying Quinones was a flight risk because of connections he had to Florida and because of his alleged conduct on the morning of the Oct. 30, 2022 crash.

Prosecutor Eli DeJarnette said Quinones was traveling north on I-95 near 295 when he went off the road, hit a guard rail, and then came to a rest back in the roadway with the car facing southbound. He said Quinones blood-alcohol content level was 0.12.

A series of crashes then followed.

Luis Javier Quinones crash
Chain reaction crash on I-95

DeJarnette said two cars shortly behind Quinones saw the headlights of his car (as it was now in the wrong direction) and pulled to the side of the median and got out of theirs car. He said Quinones was out of his car and the two drivers called Quinones over to them, but then he turned away and started running back to his car.

He said a fourth car then approached the scene and the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. They started to swerve away and then over-corrected, crashing into Quinones and his car (Quinones' attorney said the crash left him unable to walk and requiring a wheelchair).

DeJarnette said that crash flipped Quinones' car over and spun it around so that it was facing northbound again.

He said a fifth cat then hit the passenger side of the fourth car. A sixth car then rear-ended the fifth car.

DeJarnette said the car driven by Wenzel, 26, was last car involved and she was killed on impact when she crashed into the back of Quinones' car.

Following the hearing, Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor said the narrative given in court supersedes the initial one given by Virginia State Police which said Wenzel's car was the penultimate car in the crash and was pushed into the Quinones' car when hit by another car.

However, Quinones' attorney argued — and the judge agreed -- that Quinones did not pose a flight risk because he has known about possible charges for months and never fled. He added Quinones also doesn't have a criminal history that indicates he's a risk to the public.

Following the hearing, Wenzel's family continued to express displeasure with how the case has been handled by prosecutors — which included a protest last week outside of the courthouse. The family said they wanted to see at least involuntary manslaughter charges brought before a grand jury to decide.

"I think it's in the interest of justice to at least bring it before a jury and let them decide," sister Katie Wenzel said.

Claire Wenzel protest

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The family also raised concerns with the prosecutor bringing up in court that Wenzel's autopsy report showed she had 0.010 mg/L of cocaine and 0.0050 THC in her system when she died.

"It felt very inappropriate and ill-placed for him to bring up Claire's toxicology results at that point in time, because, first of all, nobody is able to conclude that it was a contributing factor at all, but I feel like they're having a prejudiced against the victim here," said Katie. "She wasn't driving erratically. I mean, she had three passengers in the car. They all felt comfortable getting in the car with her. I've spoken with several of them."

After the hearing, Taylor said the the information was included in the prosecutor's presentation in an effort to have Quinones held with bond and "we believed it was important for the court to know all of the facts of the investigation, to include information regarding the fatality that occurred."

Looking at the publicly available information on the case, CBS 6 legal analyst Todd Stone said approving bond would be expected considering the charge.

"What's most important is prior criminal record history of violence, that sort of thing. So if that doesn't exist, most people are going to get a bond in that situation, even if there's a fatality involved," Stone said.

Stone, a former federal prosecutor, said he understood the decision to only charge Quinones with DWI.

"You're talking about a chain reaction of multiple people involved. And in each car, you know, there's a level of attention going on, and then a prosecutor would have to prove that the initial intoxication was the proximate cause of that death," Stone said and added prosecutors have an ethical duty not to bring charges they cannot support with the evidence. "Each driver has their own independent duty to keep their car under control. So ,the first three drivers had the ability to get out of their car and stand by the road, and then another car — the fourth one comes in collides with those. So, for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there's a natural, continuous, unbroken chain of events here is extremely difficult or impossible."

Meanwhile, Wenzel's family said they would continue to fight for their loved one. That fight includes filing a civil suit against Quinones for $2.175-million and working to change Virginia's laws.

"We can't let slide because this is my sister and I feel like to show how much she needs me and how much I love her. I need to fight for justice for her," Katie said.

Quinones is set to go on trial on August 21.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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