NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County sheriff's deputies have charged a man they say was the designated driver the night his friend was killed in a pickup truck accident on Middle Run Road.
Brent M. Higgins, 22, of Chester, turned himself in on Thursday on a warrant charging him with negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, in the death of Preston Andrews, 23, of Chester. Higgins appeared before Hancock County Magistrate Michael W. Powell and was released on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 23.
Higgins and Andrews were out socializing with two other friends in the early morning hours of Sept. 2 and had just left a club on U.S. Route 30, according to a complaint filed by Sgt. Chuck Stanley of the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
IN REMEMBRANCE — This wooden cross recently was erected on Middle Run Road at the spot where former Marine Preston Andrews lost his life in a pickup truck accident Sept. 2. -- Stephen Huba
Higgins was driving and Andrews was in the passenger seat, without a seat belt, the complaint said. Riding in the bed of the 1999 Ford Ranger pickup truck were Gary Gamble, 22, of Chester, and Nicholas McAvoy, 23, of New Cumberland.
"(Higgins) was the designated driver," Stanley said. "He only had two or three drinks."
The foursome left the club and were driving to another location in Chester when the accident happened. The Hancock County 911 Dispatch Center received a report at 2:25 a.m. Sept. 2 of a single-vehicle crash on Middle Run Road, about a half mile north of County Road 208.
When deputies arrived, they found the truck resting on the left side on the southern embankment of the road, according to the complaint. Andrews, who had been thrown around inside the front seat compartment, was lying crumpled on the driver's side. Higgins had escaped through the front windshield area. Gamble and McAvoy had been ejected from the truck bed.
According to the complaint, Andrews died at the scene of "serious traumatic injuries" to the head and neck.
Stanley said even though the group had been drinking, alcohol was likely not a factor in the crash. Tests showed Higgins' blood alcohol content to be .028 percent, well below the legal limit of .08 percent, according to the complaint.
"It was his reckless driving" that led to the accident, Stanley said. "He was definitely going over 50 mph. He had to have been going at a high rate of speed."
Higgins was driving north down a hill where the speed limit is 30 mph. "In that area, it's a windy, downhill grade," Stanley said.
Higgins told deputies that he was driving 40 to 45 mph and that he had to swerve to avoid hitting a deer, according to the complaint.
The roadway was wet because of a recent thunderstorm, the complaint said.
"He was coming down the hill and lost control at the bottom of the hill, where it levels out," Stanley said. "He failed to negotiate a curve."
The truck sideswiped a guardrail and slid off the shoulder of the south side of the road, the complaint said. It then jumped a 14-foot-wide culvert and struck an embankment, rolling over onto its top and coming to rest on its side.
In West Virginia, negligent homicide is when someone's death is the "proximate result of injury received by the driving of any vehicle anywhere in this state in reckless disregard of the safety of others."
The charge carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Conviction also brings with it a driver's license revocation, although the code does not say for how long.
Andrews graduated from Oak Glen High School in 2007, and went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps. He most recently worked at Waste Management Inc.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)