Texting over pay, rather than alcohol cited as cause of erratic I-66 trip
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
It ended not with a BANG, a body slam or even an appearance by TNA World Wrestling Champion Kurt Angle. Rather, if not exactly a whimper, the legendary wrestler’s reckless driving case ended with a $1500 fine but no jail time attached.
Angle’s attorney Todd Gilbert entered a plea of no contest to Reckless Driving on Nov. 8 in Warren County General District Court. After hearing the prosecution’s evidence presented by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Fleming and the defendant’s explanation of his erratic driving down I-66 following an appearance at the Shenandoah County Fair on Sept. 3rd, Judge W. Dale Houff imposed the maximum fine of $2,500, suspending $1,000 of that total. The judge agreed with the defense that the case did not bear any jail time.
Angle was initially charged with DUI by State Trooper Robert Scally after he judged the 6-foot, 240-pound, 42-year-old Pennsylvania resident to have failed a series of field sobriety tests, including an on-site breathalyzer test registering .091.
However the commonwealth’s attorney’s office later amended the charge to Reckless Driving because Angle blew only a .06 in a legally-admissible BAC test at Front Royal Police headquarters between 11:50 PM and 12:10 AM after being taken into custody and charged with DUI. The legal blood-alcohol limit is .08 or below.
The prosecution presented Angle’s driving record which showed a May 2010 reckless driving conviction in North Dakota and several dismissed driving charges in Angle’s native Pennsylvania.
At the time of the traffic stop following a citizen cell phone call from a motorist and passenger, who witnessed Angle’s driving erratically after they pulled onto the interstate behind him, Angle admitted to Trooper Scally to drinking three beers earlier that evening.
Fleming told the court the arresting officer found a 12-pack of beer in Angle’s vehicle, with two beers missing.
Gilbert told the court Angle admitted to driving poorly and inappropriately. However, rather than alcohol being an underlying cause, defense counsel said the cause was texting.
During the summary of the prosecution’s evidence Fleming told the court Angle was texting the promoter of the earlier wrestling show about his payment while driving eastbound on I-66 away from the Shenandoah County Fair appearance.
As for his client’s poor performance in the field sobriety tests, Gilbert pointed to Angle’s long wrestling career during which he has suffered several broken necks and multiple knee injuries.
Angle was a 1996 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in heavyweight freestyle and NCAA champion before launching his highly successful professional wrestling career. Wikipedia describes Angle as one of only four people to complete the amateur wrestling “grand slam” of winning the Junior National, the NCAAs, the World Championship, and Olympic title. He was named one of the top 15 college wrestlers of all time by USA Wrestling and has been named the “greatest shoot wrestler”. According to Wikipedia, after initially turning down offers to join the World Wrestling Federation, Angle signed a multi-year contract with the company in 1998. After leaving WWE, Angle joined Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), where he became the second wrestler in TNA to win TNA’s Triple Crown and the first man to hold all three TNA championships simultaneously.
Gilbert challenged the prosecution’s contention Angle’s offense was a particularly “egregious” example of bad driving in arguing against any imposition of jail time as part of the sentence for his client.
“Were this not a high-profile defendant it is to likely the prosecution would have produced the North Dakota abstract or have had out-of-county witnesses present for this hearing,” Gilbert told the court. “His insurance will be impacted – it will go up – and his license will be impacted in his home state. And there is a stigma to his career and public image … but ultimately it is a case of someone driving poorly while using a phone.”
Judge Houff called the case unusual in his experience due to the length of time and distance of cell phone or texting use causing erratic driving. However, in the end he agreed the offense and evidence did not meet a standard to require jail time as part of the sentencing of the defendant.
And those out-of-county witnesses – nah, they weren’t Angle’s arch-wrestling nemesis Jeff Jarrett and his wife and Angle ex, Karen. They were identified in court as Mr. Mallory and Ms. Knight, who were present but not called to testify. They are believed to be Loudoun County residents, and pretty snippy ones at that … Hey, maybe it was the Jarretts in disguise … NO, I’m just getting sucked into that wrestling soap opera scenario again … I think.