NEW CUMBERLAND - A negligent homicide charge against a Chester man involved in a September 2012 fatal accident has been dismissed, Hancock County Circuit Court records show.
Judge Martin J. Gaughan's dismissal of the misdemeanor charge against Brent M. Higgins, 24, resulted from an agreement earlier this week between Hancock County Assistant Prosecutor Jack Wood and Higgins' attorney, April Manypenny-Raines.
The judge's order noted that Higgins had successfully completed all the terms imposed by the court and that he continues to receive counseling.
"The state and (defense) counsel see this matter as an unfortunate accident and that the defendant is of no threat to others," the order said.
Higgins was charged with negligent homicide in connection with the Sept. 2, 2012, death of his friend, Preston Andrews, 23, of Chester. The two were part of a group of four friends out socializing on the night of Sept. 1, 2012, and Higgins was the designated driver, according to the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
Higgins was driving a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup truck on Middle Run Road in the early morning hours of Sept. 2 when he lost control, sideswiped a guardrail and crashed into a southside embankment, according to the sheriff's department.
Andrews, a former Marine, had been riding in the passenger seat without a seat belt.
He was found crumpled inside the truck and died at the scene of head and neck injuries, according to a complaint filed in Hancock County Magistrate Court about a month after the accident. The case was later transferred to Circuit Court.
Higgins told deputies at the time that he was going 40 to 45 mph - the speed limit is 30 mph - and had swerved to avoid a deer. Investigators believe Higgins was actually going about 55 mph - too fast for a hilly, winding road that was wet from rain at the time.
Although Higgins had been drinking, along with his three friends, investigators determined that speed and reckless driving - not alcohol - were the cause of the crash. Tests showed Higgins' blood alcohol content to be .028 percent, well below the legal limit of .08 percent, according to the complaint.
One of two passengers riding in the pickup bed that night told deputies they were "flying down the road and were sliding around the bed of the truck," the complaint said.
On Wednesday, Wood said the case was dismissed because "there didn't appear to be a criminal foundation. It wasn't there. We had a passenger without a seat belt. They were going too fast for the road conditions. ... It was a difficult case, a tragic case, but it didn't appear to be a crime."
The judge's order said there was "no known objection" from the Andrews family to the dismissal.
In West Virginia, negligent homicide applies to anyone who is responsible for the death of another as a result of driving with "reckless disregard for the safety of others." The charge carries a penalty of up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 and a driver's license revocation.
At the time Higgins' case was transferred to Circuit Court, in February 2013, he was ordered to be evaluated by the Lee Day Report Center in Weirton and referred for grief counseling.
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