Expert witnesses testify, Middleditch trial to resume tomorrow morning

Andrew Middleditch faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in the death of 78-year-old Lonnie Branham, as well as his second drunk driving offense. Submitted photo Andrew Middleditch faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in the death of 78-year-old Lonnie Branham, as well as his second drunk driving offense. Submitted photo

 

The high-end realtor charged with involuntary manslaughter and his second drunk driving offense for killing an elderly driver in a Memorial Day car crash last year stands trial in Albemarle Circuit Court.

On April 26, a 12-person jury made of nine women and three men was selected to hear the case against Andrew Blackwell Middleditch, 56, who investigators say had double the legal limit of alcohol in his system while driving his GMC Yukon on Barracks Road on the morning of May 25, 2015. He was attempting to turn left when 78-year-old driver Lonnie Wycliffe Branham tried to pass him on the left side and the vehicles collided, sending Branham’s 1990 Chevy Lumina into a ditch.

Branham was pronounced dead at the scene.

In opening statements, prosecutor Matthew Quatrara told the jury he has “rock solid and indisputable” evidence to convict Middleditch, and said because the real estate agent’s attorney, Fran Lawrence, does not dispute the defendant was intoxicated behind the wheel, this is a one-issue case: Was Middleditch the cause of the crash?

Jonathan Hickory, an Albemarle County police officer who specialized in fatal crash reconstruction at the time, testified that Middleditch’s front left turn signal bulb showed signs of “hot shock,” which signifies that his signal was activated at the time of the crash.

Lawrence believes Middleditch’s turn signal, along with his alleged slowing speed, would have given Branham ample time to register that a person driving in front of him was about to make a left turn.

In a dash cam video from Officer Greg Anastopoulos’ patrol car on the morning of the incident, Middleditch can be heard speaking with slurred speech. During his sobriety tests, he struggles to count backwards and refuses to say the alphabet, saying he’s dyslexic. In the video, he says he believes Branham was trying to pass him.

“He knew he was being passed,” the prosecutor said. “We believe that is the core of this case.”

The jury will meet again tomorrow to hear the rest of the case and decide on a verdict.

 
Middleditch also faces a wrongful death lawsuit in which Branham’s family is asking for $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

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