High-end real estate agent Andrew Middleditch’s charges for driving under the influence for the second time and for involuntary manslaughter stemming from a Memorial Day crash that killed 78-year-old Lonnie Branham were certified to the grand jury in a November 19 preliminary hearing.
Witness Victor Schiller was driving behind Middleditch’s silver SUV and Lonnie Branham’s white Chevy Lumina headed east around 8am May 25 when Branham, in a legal passing zone, pulled out to go around Middleditch as Middleditch made a left turn. The vehicles collided and Branham’s car flipped over.
In an e-mail to police the day after the crash, Schiller said he saw Middleditch’s left turn signal and brake lights go on and the white car speed up and move to pass the SUV. In court, he said the events were “pretty much simultaneous.”
Defense attorney Fran Lawrence hammered on the difference in sequence of events between the e-mail and Schiller’s testimony. “This whole thing unfolded in less than three seconds,” said Schiller.
He said he was going approximately 45mph and it didn’t seem like the other cars were “going too fast.” Middleditch had just started his turn and “was barely into the left lane” when the two cars struck, testified Schiller. He agreed with Lawrence that the Lumina driver could have seen Middleditch’s signal and brake lights, and said he saw no brake lights on the Lumina. “He could not move back into his lane because he was committed,” said Schiller. “It was a second. It was a long second.”
Five seconds before the crash, Middleditch was going between 17mph and 19mph, said Albemarle County Police Officer Jonathan Hickory, who examined the crash data recorder in Middleditch’s 2013 GMC Yukon. A half second before the crash, Middleditch hit the brakes, said the officer.
Middleditch kept his head and eyes downcast during much of the hearing. When Hickory showed photos of the crash scene with Branham’s body in a white sheet, Middleditch closed his eyes.
Officer Greg Anastopoulos noticed “an odor of alcohol” when he spoke to Middleditch at 8:24am, he told the court. “He was speaking at a very low volume” and his speech was “slurred at times,” said Anastopoulos.
Middleditch told him he was a realtor and was looking at property, going around 35mph, when another vehicle came up at what he estimated was 70mph and clipped the front of his SUV, testified Anastopoulos.
In a video of the roadside interview and field sobriety test, Middleditch told the officer he’d had a beer or two the night before before 9pm, then said he’d had two or three beers that night.
“I’m completely fine,” said Middleditch on the video. Moments later, he said, “This has never happened before in my life, seriously. I’m upset about this person.” Middleditch also said three times that he was “freaking out” over the situation.
He performed two field sobriety tests, but refused to do an alphabet test. “I’m not doing the alphabet,” he said. “I’m dyslexic. I have a hard time finding numbers in the phone book.”
When Anastopoulos took him to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail and tested his blood alcohol level 35 to 40 minutes later, Middleditch blew .18 BAC, more than double the legal limit of .08.
Judge Robert Downer found enough probable cause to certify the charges to the grand jury, which meets December 7.
And that’s not the only legal woe facing Middleditch. Branham’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August.