The man who killed a 24-year-old Alexandria resident last January in a drunk-driving collision in Rosslyn was sentenced to 12 years in prison this morning.
Aman Singh Lail was sentenced to 20 years, with nine suspended, for aggravated involuntary manslaughter, plus 12 months for driving under the influence. Lail pleaded guilty to the charges last summer.
The sentence was the maximum allowed upon the plea agreement, and Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo apologized to the family of the victim, Chowdhury Saqlain, saying no sentence could replace the son they lost.
“I don’t even know what to say to the family seated over here,” she said from the dais. “It’s completely unfair what’s happened to you. It’s wrong.”
Lail had previously been arrested twice and convicted once of DUI in Virginia. He had also been charged with multiple reckless driving and speeding charges, totaling more than 30 citations and arrests.
On Jan. 24, 2014, Lail was driving on Lee Highway at between 53 and 64 mph — the Commonwealth’s Attorney and Lail’s attorneys dispute the speed and blood-alcohol content of the case — when his Jeep Wrangler slammed into Saqlain’s sedan at the intersection of Ft. Myer Drive. Lail could not complete a field sobriety test and initially lied to detectives, telling them a friend “Moe” had been driving his SUV.
“He drove like a maniac, was outrageously drunk and displayed callousness after the fact,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay Burkholder said during the hearing. Witnesses said he drank between four and five vodka and orange juice drinks and two tequila shots at a hookah bar in Fairfax County. “Because of perverted fate, the defendant is alive and [Saqlain] is dead.”
Lail’s mother testified that her son had been an alcoholic and told her the evening after the crash he didn’t remember what happened. In the 15 months since the crash, Lail’s attorney claimed he had grown up, and asked for leniency in the sentencing.
After the hearing, Saqlain’s family and their attorney, David Haynes of The Cochran Firm, held a press conference outside the courthouse and announced they would be pursuing a civil suit against Lail, asking for $20 million in damages.
Haynes said the family hopes Saqlain’s legacy is fewer drunk-driving deaths. They are also calling on state legislators to make bars and restaurants liable in drunk-driving accidents that occurred after over-serving their patrons.
“Without this law on the books, we are unable to hold these establishments responsible,” Haynes said.
During the sentencing hearing, Saqlain’s stepfather read testimony written by his wife — the victim’s mother — who was quietly sobbing in the front row.
“There will be no more birthdays, he will always be 24,” he read. “My heart aches knowing he had no warning, no ability to prepare. He couldn’t say goodbye.”
Nancy Tinoza, an immigrant from Zimbabwe, was killed in the collision at about 3:12 a.m. on the 3400 block of Eastern Avenue NE, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. She was pronounced dead after being transported to the Washington Medical Center’s trauma center.
The driver of the car and another passenger were also hospitalized, and after officers interviewed the driver, Momodu Bello, they arrested him and charged him with second-degree murder.
According to the criminal complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court, Bello, a 35-year-old Fort Washington, Md. resident, was intoxicated and speeding on Eastern Avenue, which has a 25 mph speed limit. According to police, Bello said he had two beers and a shot of Hennessy at Club Mango in Bladensburg, Md., before driving, and “thought that the truck was moving.”
Bello was driving a Volkswagen Passat, which “submarined” under the truck during the collision. Tinoza suffered “massive blunt force trauma” to the head and was rendered unconscious.
“[A witness] saw the defendant had dragged [Tinoza] out of the vehicle by her arms and began shaking [her] violently when she did not respond to the defendant’s attempts to speak with her,” the complaint reads. “At one point, the defendant dropped the unconscious decedent, causing her head to strike the asphalt pavement.”
Bello was denied bond at an arraignment hearing yesterday, District of Columbia U.S. Attorney spokesman Bill Miller said in an email. His first preliminary hearing is on Friday.
Tinoza worked as a research assistant with the International Monetary Fund, according to her LinkedIn profile, and graduated from the College of Wooster in 2012 through the U.S. Student Achievers Program (USAP), which places international students in U.S. colleges. The program has set up a fundraising page to support her family in Zimbabwe — as of 1:30 p.m. the page has raised $8,483 of a $20,000 goal.
“We are saddened and devastated by this loss — she will be remembered for her kindness, energy, optimism and brilliance,” the USAP wrote on the fundraising page. “She was a role model to many, and full of promise and potential. She will be greatly missed by her family, friends, and all she has touched.”
Photo via Facebook
VDOT to Talk I-66 in Arlington — VDOT officials are expected to provide some specifics about their plan to upgrade I-66 inside the Beltway during a meeting with the Arlington Transportation Commission. That meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. VDOT is said to be considering converting a portion of I-66 into HOT lanes. The agency has yet to reveal whether it will push for additional lanes inside the Beltway as well. [InsideNova]
Arlington Prosecutor Takes Morrissey Case — Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos will be the lead prosecutor in the latest criminal case against Del. Joe Morrissey, who is currently serving a work-release jail sentence after pleading guilty to having sex with a 17-year-old. [Washington Post]
Cops: Don’t Drive Drunk After the Big Game — Arlington County Police are reminding residents not to drive drunk after the Super Bowl on Sunday. For those planning on downing a few brewskies, ACPD recommends designating a driver, calling a cab or taking public transit. “Don’t want to attend the Detention Center’s #SuperBowlXLIX viewing party? Plan ahead by designating a #SoberRide home,” the department said via Twitter. [Arlington County, Twitter]
Energy Journey Game This Weekend — Call it the Super Bowl of local government-sponsored, energy-themed, life-sized board games. This weekend, Arlington County is holding the latest installment of its “Energy Journey Game,” an interactive life-size board game that tests your “energy IQ.” It’s taking place at Wakefield High School starting at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. [Arlington County]
A Visit to Pentagon City’s DEA Museum — The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call has a gonzo journalism account of one reporter’s trip to the DEA Museum in Pentagon City. From the article’s prelude: “And suddenly, there was a terrible mall all around us and the sky was full of what looked like squat office buildings — all glass and concrete and blocking out the sunlight — and the sound of the Metro, which ran underneath the Pentagon City Mall and the Pentagon Centre and the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum at 700 Army Navy Drive in Arlington, Va.” [Roll Call]
Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk
The driver who killed an Alexandria man in a drunk driving accident in Rosslyn on Jan. 24 pleaded guilty to DUI aggravated involuntary manslaughter today.
Aman Singh Lail, 24, was traveling eastbound on Lee Highway when his Jeep Wrangler slammed into the car of 24-year-old Saqlain Chowdhury at 2:09 a.m. Chowdhury was transported to George Washington University Hospital, where he died.
Lail pleaded guilty in Arlington Circuit Court this morning, and will face sentencing from Judge Louise DiMatteo on Nov. 14.
Lail, a Baltimore resident, had almost three dozen traffic violations on his record in Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties since 2008, including a driving while intoxicated arrest in Arlington in 2009 and a DWI conviction in Fairfax County in 2012, according to prosecutors. Lail faces between one and 20 years in prison.
“On Jan. 24, 2014, Aman Lail decided to endanger the National Capital Region by driving drunk,” Deputy Police Chief Daniel Murray said in a press release. “This decision cost Saqlain Chowdhury his life. The aggressive investigation and prosecution by the Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Arlington County Police Department’s Critical Accident Team has resulted in today’s plea. While there is nothing that will bring Mr. Chowdhury back to his family, at least Aman Lail will not present a danger to the community as long as he remains behind bars.”
The case was prosecuted by Deputy Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay Burkholder.
“The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office is pleased that the defendant entered guilty pleas today, but there are no good outcomes here,” Burkholder said. “Our thoughts continue to be with the victim’s family and friends as they struggle with this tragedy.”
Photo courtesy Arlington County Sheriff’s Office
ACPD reminds drivers to use seat belts, drive safely and pay attention to the roads. In addition to an increase in drunk drivers and distracted drivers around the holidays, police report 32 percent of drivers are more likely to drive more aggressively during this time.
Police had noticed an uptick in drunk driving incidents last month, just before Thanksgiving. During the Thanksgiving weekend alone, Virginia had 11 traffic fatalities. The ACPD hopes drivers will heed its safety message in order to avoid a similar scenario around the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays.
Here are the safety tips offered by ACPD:
- Buckle up — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than half of the people killed nationwide in traffic collisions were not wearing seatbelts.
- Protect Child Passengers — The safest place for child passengers is in the back seat. Be sure they have a child safety seat and that it is used the correct way.
- Don’t Drink & Drive — Every 45 minutes in the U.S., someone dies from an alcohol-related crash. Be responsible and don’t drink and drive. If you do drink, designate a sober driver or take a cab or public transportation. The Arlington County Police Department is participating in the annual “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” enforcement initiative that continues through the New Year’s holiday.
- Avoid Distractions — 10% of fatal crashes and 18% of injuries caused by crashes were distraction related in 2012. Distractions to avoid while driving include, but aren’t limited to, cell phone use, texting, eating, drinking, and using in-vehicle technologies or portable electronic devices.
- Prepare for Inclement Weather — Last year, 4% of car crash fatalities over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend were weather related. Be sure your car is weather ready and fully serviced. Should the weather be bad, avoid driving. If you are driving, be sure to drive slowly and know your vehicle.
The department added the following greeting: “From our family to yours, the Arlington County Police Department wishes you a safe, happy, and accident free holiday season.”
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Arlington residents can expect to see an unusual car on the streets through the holiday season, reminding of the dangers of drunk driving.
The Arlington County Police Department partnered with Red Top Cab and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) in the unveiling of a vehicle that’s half police car and half taxicab. The vehicle has been nicknamed the “Chooser Cruiser” because it reminds people that they have choices for getting home after drinking — in the back of a taxi or in the back of a police car.
“We are very excited to present yet another reminder of the choice people have before taking to the roads if alcohol is part of their celebration,” said Red Top Cab Chief Operating Officer Wayne Miller.
As part of the public/private initiative, Red Top donated the former taxi, which has more than 396,000 miles on it, and paid for its makeover. ACPD donated the lights on top which had previously been on a former police cruiser, and will be responsible for positioning the vehicle throughout the county. Both organizations emphasize that due to the donations, the vehicle was of practically no cost to taxpayers.
The car’s unveiling (which was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy) comes just in time for the holiday season. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25 percent of all drunk driving deaths in the U.S. occur in December. The holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Eve see a 40 percent and 60 percent spike in alcohol related traffic deaths, respectively.
“The holiday season is a particularly dangerous time,” said ACPD Chief M. Douglas Scott. “We’re doing everything we can to both identify and apprehend impaired drivers.”
Chief Scott noted that penalties for first time drunk driving offenders include up to a $2,500 fine, a jail term of up to one year and/or the suspension of the offender’s drivers license for up to one year.
Neal Nichols, President of Red Top Cab, handed over the vehicle’s keys to Chief Scott at the unveiling ceremony.
“This retired Red Top Cab spent some of its time already taking people home who had overindulged,” Nichols said. “Let’s hope that this Chooser Cruiser will cause people to think twice and will save lives.”
Arlington is the first area in the D.C. metro to take part in this pilot program. The Chooser Cruiser will be stationed at various points around the county through the new year. It will be used in conjunction with regularly scheduled sobriety checkpoints.
“Hopefully it will change behavior. Even if it changes the behavior of one individual, it can be deemed a success,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “Drunk driving is one of the rare public health issues that is 100% preventable.”
On the front of the car are all the badges for the D.C. metro area’s supporting law enforcement agencies. The back features the number to call for a free lift from SoberRide, a service that has provided nearly 56,000 free rides since 1993.
Starting on December 14 and running through January 1, local residents age 21 and older can call SoberRide for a free trip home, up to a $30 fare. Between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., residents can call 1-800-200-TAXI (8294), and AT&T customers can text #WRAP. One of these methods must be used to get the free ride, because calling individual cab companies directly will result in normal cab fares. More information about the program is available online.
All vehicles that pass through the checkpoint will be stopped and drivers asked to provide licenses. Any drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or other substances will be ushered to a safe area nearby for further observation and possible testing. The checkpoint location will not be revealed ahead of time.
The checkpoint is part of the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, in support of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-led crackdown on drunk driving. The program combines high-visibility DUI enforcement with public awareness to deter intoxicated individuals from getting behind the wheel.
Virginia’s maximum penalty for the first conviction for driving under the influence is 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine and the suspension of driving privileges for 12 months.
This week’s Arlington County crime report includes several cases that may serve as important lessons for criminals. For instance, if you’re going to (allegedly) shoplift from The Gap, leave the 16 bags of cocaine at home.
POSSESSION WITH INTENT TO DISTRIBUTE (COCAINE), 02/10/12, 1100 block of S. Hayes Street. At 3:15 pm on February 10, a subject entered The Gap clothing store and placed items in a bag and left the store without paying. Store security detained the suspect for shoplifting. Upon arrival of officers, a further search of the suspect was conducted and a sandwich bag with 16 smaller bags of cocaine were located. Andreus Womack, 19, of Washington, D.C. was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute and petit larceny.
Also, if you’re going to (allegedly) steal a car, do so before getting drunk.
GRAND LARCENY OF AUTO (RECOVERED), 02/14/12, 300 block of S. 23rd Street. At 2:50 am on February 14, officers spotted a stolen vehicle that was being driven erratically and activated the emergency lights. The driver attempted to speed away, but struck a concrete column and fled the scene on foot through a parking garage. Officers apprehended Joseph Bennett, 45, of no fixed address, and he was charged with grand larceny of an auto, driving under the influence, hit and run, refusal and driving on a suspended license.
Finally, if you’re going to (allegedly) try to stab a CVS employee with scissors, make sure you have a better getaway vehicle than Metro.
ATTEMPTED MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 02/12/12, 2100 block of N. 15th Street. On February 12 at approximately 5:30 pm, a suspect entered a store and tried to stab a store employee with a pair of scissors after being asked to leave. The suspect was located by officers in the Metro station, refused to obey police commands and continuously attempted to assault the arresting officers. A credit card and cell phone not belonging to the suspect were located during a search. Dana Brown, 28, of Landover, MD was charged with with assault and attempted malicious wounding.
As always, all suspects are innocent until proven guilty. The rest of this week’s crime report, after the jump.
The nationwide law enforcement and public outreach initiative — with the tagline “Drunk Driving: Over the Limit, Under Arrest” — will spend more than $7 million on national TV and radio advertising starting Wednesday. It seeks to reduce the number of drunk driving crashes around the holidays. Last year, 753 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes during the month of December alone.
Today LaHood highlighted the new “No Refusal” strategy that a number of states are adopting. “No Refusal” allows police officers to quickly obtain warrants from on-call judges in order to get blood samples from suspects who refuse to take a breathalyzer test.
“Drunk driving remains a leading cause of death and injury on our roadways,” LaHood said in a statement. “I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement officials who have pioneered the ‘No Refusal’ approach to get drunk drivers off our roads.”
LaHood was joined by National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland and Mothers Against Drunk Driving President Laura Dean-Mooney at a press conference at the Arlington County Jail. A number of law enforcement officials from around the country were also present at the event, which kicked off at 10:30 this morning.
Virginia has a form of the “No Refusal” strategy currently in place. The state’s “implied consent” law calls for a drivers’ license to be suspended if he or she refuses to take a chemical test when stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on a state road.
Together with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police, Arlington Police will set up a DUI checkpoint at an undisclosed location in the county. All cars passing through the checkpoint will be stopped, and drivers suspected of operating a vehicle while intoxicated will be asked to pull to the side to perform further sobriety testing.
In addition to the checkpoint, police say they will be adding extra DUI saturation patrols for the remainder of the holiday season.
In Virginia, the maximum penalty for a first DUI conviction is 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine and a 12-month suspension of driving privileges.
The Arlington County Police Department says it will have extra DUI patrols on hand for St. Patrick’s Day next week. The department also announced that it will conduct a sobriety checkpoint at an as-yet undisclosed location in the county.
According to federal statistics, as many as 37 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes on St. Patrick’s Day had a blood alcohol content of at least .08, above the legal limit.
“For many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day has become a popular night out to celebrate with friends and family,” Arlington police said in a statement. “Unfortunately, due to the large number of drunk drivers, the night out has also become very dangerous.”
An Arlington police officer was sent to the hospital after his parked cruiser was struck by a suspected drunk driver.
The officer was on a traffic detail on the 1700 block of N. Glebe Road at 2:00 a.m. this morning when a car slammed into his cruiser. Luis Alonso Argueta-Amaya, 23, of Woodbridge was arrested a few blocks away and charged with DWI and Felony Hit and Run.
The officer is expected to make a full recovery, according to NBC4.
Statewide, Virginia State Police responded to calls for 1,713 traffic accidents and 1,699 stranded vehicle. According to the Washington Post:
The state police’s Fairfax Division alone responded to 681 calls for service, including 435 disabled vehicles and 121 traffic crashes.
Meanwhile, the State Police are warning people driving to bars and parties for the Super Bowl to be careful on the roads.
“Drivers need to weigh the risks when deciding if attending a Super Bowl party is really worth a crash or getting stuck,” said Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Our greatest concern is what road conditions will be like following the game as temperatures drop and wet, slushy roadways turn icy.”
“No matter what road and weather conditions may be like Sunday, the most important decision individuals must make is to not drink and drive,” said Colonel Flaherty. “Driving impaired with slick road conditions is not just dangerous, but deadly for everyone.”
Some Super Bowls do’s and don’ts from the VSP after the jump.