BECKLEY, W.Va. — A Florida man pleaded no contest Thursday to driving drunk and causing a deadly wrong way crash in Raleigh County on the West Virginia Turnpike in March 2015.
Rafael Herrera, 45, of Miami, Fla., was originally charged with five criminal counts including murder but entered a plea in Raleigh County Circuit Court to voluntary manslaughter and DUI causing bodily injury. He was sentenced to seven years behind bars. He will be given credit for two years already served.
Herrera was heading south on the Turnpike near the Ghent toll plaza when he decided to turnaround before getting to the plaza, Raleigh County Assistant Prosecutor Benjamin Hatfield said.
“He turned around and was sitting in the wrong direction on the shoulder of the road and preceded to head northbound in the southbound lanes,” Hatfield said.
Herrera traveled about five miles before slamming into a southbound vehicle being driven by Lisa McCormick, 43, of Knoxville, Tenn. McCormick, a Kanawha County native, was killed, her two daughters and a family friend were critically injured. All three young women have since recovered.
“The report noted that she (McCormick) swerved and tried to avoid him and he swerved in the same direction and they had the head-on collision,” Hatfield said.
Three of McCormick’s family members, including her mother, spoke during Thursday’s court hearing along with the mother of the family friend. Speaking through an translator, Herrera apologized and said he wished he could change places with McCormick.
“The children suffered severe injuries, two of which will have lifelong effects,” Hatfield said.
There are some questions about the case that haven’t been answered, Hatfield said.
“He was under the influence–I don’t know if he was trying to avoid the toll. It was noted in the investigation that he did have money on him. So it’s not a situation where a person is extremely panicked out because they don’t have money for the toll,” Hatfield said.
At the time of the crash, DUI was bodily injury was a misdemeanor. Because of bills passed by state lawmakers, which went into effect this past July 1, DUI with bodily injury, DUI causing serious bodily injury and DUI with death have all been elevated. Those changes didn’t have an impact on the Herrera case.
Herrera was wanted out of Pennsylvania for making terrorist threats and was on probation in Florida when the crash occurred.