Wise woman sentenced to 16 years for fatal 2020 crash – Kingsport Times News

Laya Maude Belcher, 61, was sentenced to 16 years in prison Oct. 8, 2021 for the death of Sharon Dorton in a head-on vehicle collision on Sept. 23, 2020.

Laya Maude Belcher, 61, was sentenced to 16 years in prison Oct. 8, 2021 for the death of Sharon Dorton in a head-on vehicle collision on Sept. 23, 2020.
WISE — A Wise woman who pleaded guilty in connection with a fatal alcohol-related car crash last year will serve 16 years in prison.
Wise County Circuit Court Judge Ron Elkins sentenced Laya Maude Belcher, 61, to 20 years for aggravated involuntary manslaughter and one year on a misdemeanor DUI charge stemming from a Sept. 23, 2020, head-on collision with a vehicle driven by 62-year-old Sharon Dorton of Big Stone Gap.
Dorton died in a Norton hospital after the crash.
Elkins heard testimony from Norton police officers Justin Qualls and Cody Childress, who responded that night to calls of a vehicle traveling north in the southbound lanes of U.S. Route 23 between Big Stone Gap and Norton.
Courtroom benches were filled with several of Dorton’s family members as the officers each testified that they drove their vehicles in each southbound lane to find and block the vehicle before it passed by them and collided with another vehicle.
Qualls testified that he reached Dorton’s vehicle first and saw she was conscious and responding before he went to the vehicle that first passed him because it was smoking.
He said he was able to force open the driver’s door and get Belcher to the back of a police vehicle before returning to Dorton.
Childress, Qualls and Virginia State Trooper Brett Vosburg each testified that Belcher was slurring her speech while responding to their questions at the scene. Vosburg said she refused a field sobriety test but had blood drawn at the hospital that later indicated a blood alcohol level of 0.256 — about three times the state limit for impaired driving.
According to case records, police found an open container of vodka in Belcher’s SUV.
Vosburg and Childress each said Belcher admitted to drinking that night.
Elkins viewed body camera footage from Qualls’ equipment at the scene, where Belcher was recorded asking if anyone was hurt and asking to go home.
Dorton’s older brother, Dan Dorton, and Jason Barber, the husband of one of Sharon Dorton’s nieces, each read statements about her devotion to her nieces and nephews as well as her choice to take care of her mother rather than marry and start her own family.
Dan Dorton called state guidelines for sentencing in cases like Belcher’s “inadequate” and asked Elkins to give her a maximum sentence.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Corey Salyers, in closing statements, said Belcher could have called for a ride but chose to drive that day. He then asked for a 20-year sentence on the manslaughter charge.
Defense lawyer Richard Kennedy asked Elkins to consider Belcher’s family history, with five immediate family members dying from crashes, medical conditions or suicide since she was 11.
“The judge is the only one who can give her a fair sentence,” Kennedy said.
During her statement before sentencing, Belcher cried as she apologized to Dorton’s family.
Responding to Dan Dorton’s statement that she never reached out to the family after the crash, she said, “Not a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought of her. I think about her and I think about you.
“I deserve whatever the judge gives me, OK?” Belcher continued. “I’m really, really sorry.”
Elkins ordered five years of the manslaughter sentenced suspended, with the DUI sentence served consecutively. On Kennedy’s request, Elkins approved a request for Belcher’s treatment in the state Department of Corrections’ therapeutic drug community program in the latter years of her sentence.
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