Arnold O. Peterson was given 20 years in prison on Monday for driving drunk during a police chase last January that ended in a collision and killed a Richmond lawyer and his fiance.
It was the stiffest drunken-driving sentence that Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Charles D. Griffith Jr. could remember. Peterson, 48, will serve at least 17 years without parole under the state’s new statutes on aggravated involuntary manslaughter, Griffith said.
Peterson’s van crashed into a BMW driven by William L. Rosbe, 50, at the intersection of Brambleton Avenue and Duke Street late at night on Jan. 21.
Rosbe and Teresa G. Timms, 40, of Virginia Beach, were killed instantly. Peterson, who had led police on a 15-mile chase beginning on International Parkway in Virginia Beach, was not seriously injured.
Circuit Judge John E. Clarkson said the long police chase set Peterson’s case apart from other drunken-driving, manslaughter cases.
“When you evade the blue lights, and you don’t stop you are going to be punished and punished severely,” Clarkson said. “I can’t think of a more serious case. If you went into a 7-Eleven and shot two people, it would have been capital murder.”
Clarkson actually sentenced Peterson to 46 years on four counts: 40 years for two counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, five years for eluding police and one year for driving under the influence.
But the judge suspended 26 years, saying that “I want to give you some hope.”
Part of the evidence that Clarkson considered was a videotape of the chase and collision made by a state trooper.
Although the courtroom audience could not see the tape, the footage showed in graphic detail that Peterson weaved through traffic at speeds reaching 80 mph before crashing into Rosbe’s car, according to Griffith. It took at least six police officers to wrestle Peterson out of his van, Griffith said.
After the sentencing, relatives of the victims said they were pleased that the sentence will keep Peterson behind bars until he is a senior citizen. “We feel it was a reasonable sentence,” said Julie Brooks, Teresa Timms’ sister. “We can live with it and hope that the public can get the message.”
But at least one was less than satisfied. “I would have preferred the maximum, from the point of view of public safety and sending a message,” said James R. Rosbe, the brother of William Rosbe. “But it is fairly stiff. I was afraid it would be like five or six years.”
Mike Goodove, chairman of the Southside branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he was less than pleased.
“We certainly agree with the court handing down a maximum sentence in this case,” Goodove said. “However 20 years served is a poor price to pay for two lives.”
Peterson, wearing shackles and dressed in a rumpled blue suit with no tie, blamed the accident on his alcoholism and marital difficulties.
He told the court that on the day of the accident he had moved his belongings from the home he shared with his wife and two daughters in Virginia Beach. He argued with his wife, drove away and began drinking.
He visited a friend, where he started drinking beer. He stopped at a Chesapeake restaurant, where he drank more beer. He visited a Virginia Beach bar, where he again drank beer. Peterson also admitted that he bought a six-pack of beer and drank in his van.
All told, Peterson had at least 10 beers before crashing his van into Rosbe’s BMW.
Griffith said Peterson’s blood-alcohol level tested at the hospital after the accident at 0.25, more than three times the 0.08 level for legal intoxication in Virginia.
“He wasn’t just a little drunk, he was very drunk,” Griffith said.
And it wasn’t the first time. Griffith produced evidence showing Peterson has a drunken-driving record dating to the 1970s, shortly after he graduated from Old Dominion University. Griffith also told the court that Peterson had a history of angry outbursts against police who stopped him for drunken driving. When the accident occurred, Peterson was out on bond for a drunken-driving arrest in Virginia Beach.
Peterson said he tried to elude police because he panicked and feared that he would be stopped by the same Virginia Beach officer who had stopped him before.
“I was not in a rational state of mind to deal with the police at that time,” Peterson said. “I was petrified when all this took place.”
But Griffin argued that Peterson knew exactly what he was doing and that a stiff sentence was necessary for others to be protected from drivers like Peterson.
“It was not like some mafia hit, but in many ways I submit that it was worse,” Griffith told the court. “Because the victims never saw it coming. For every one of us Arnold Peterson is always out there on the road.”