Commonwealth’s Attorney: Local woman sentenced 21 years in DUI manslaughter case

Crime

Photo: Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

(WJHL) — A Wise County woman received her sentence on Friday that stemmed from a September 2020 wrong-way crash that left one dead.

A release from Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said that Laya Maude Belcher, 60, Wise, received 21 years in prison with five years suspended and will serve an active 16 years behind bars.

This sentencing follows after a jury convicted Belcher of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence in June, to which she pleaded guilty without a plea agreement.

According to court documents, officers responded to a car crash in the southbound lane of U.S. Highway 23 on Sept. 23, 2020, where they found two vehicles with their front ends destroyed.

The other driver died at the scene from her injuries.

Officers spoke with Belcher, who said she was “a little drunk, not a lot drunk, just a little,” the release said. She mentioned she drank four or five shots of alcohol within the last hour and refused sobriety tests.

The release said investigators found an open bottle of vodka in Belcher’s passenger compartment, and Belcher’s blood returned with a blood-alcohol content of 0.256 — more than three times the legal limit.

Friday’s hearing revealed that Belcher was previously convicted of a DWI in Scott County in 2002 and again in Sullivan County in 2009.

“This is a tragic and heartbreaking case,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said. “An innocent life was senselessly taken by the selfish, reckless acts of a repeat offending drunk driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.256.

“According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, over 10,000 people are killed each year by drunk driving crashes. That’s just outrageous. That’s why my office seeks harsh punishment for drunk driving convictions and why we worked so hard in this case. Our prayers go out to the family of the victim in this case and hope that today’s sentence will give them closure.”

The brother of the victim said while the sentencing doesn’t reverse the fatal car crash, it gives the family solace.

“Our family mourns the loss of Sharon,” Dan Dorton of Prince George, Virginia, said. “However, we feel like justice was served today, and we’re pleased with the outcome. On behalf of the family, I want to thank Chuck Slemp, his team, the Victim/Witness Assistance Program and all the officers who responded to this tragedy.”

The Virginia State Police, Norton City Police Department and Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office investigated the case.

Belcher remains at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Duffield and awaits her transfer to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

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