Court-martial begins for sailor acquitted in civilian court
NORFOLK -- Ryan Petrosky was a little taken aback when a stranger offered him and his friends a ride home after a night out at a bar -- but they couldn't find a cab, so they took him up on it.
As the 2006 BMW pulled away from Red Dog Saloon in the Ghent neighborhood around 2 a.m. on July 25, 2009, the mood was low key, Petrosky testified Wednesday. But by the time the car was northbound on Granby Street, he was becoming concerned.
The sailor behind the wheel, Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Freeman,began driving aggressively, Petrosky said, swerving from lane to lane, passing other cars, going faster and faster. As the car approached Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center, he said, it was going "extremely fast." Sensing an accident was imminent, Petrosky instinctively tensed up, bracing for the impact.
The last thing he remembers, he said, was the car going over the curb of the median strip with a thud.
When Petrosky came to, he was covered in blood. He had bruises, scrapes and cuts. His clothes were torn. He had no idea where he was.
Five blocks away, the BMW was a smashed, twisted pile of metal. It had slammed into a tree and burst into flames.
Of the five occupants in the car, two were dead: Cameron Richardson, 25, a sailor from Virginia Beach, and Lauren Kok, 22, a nurse who was visiting from New York. Another sailor, Thomas Jaskel, Kok's boyfriend, was paralyzed and suffered brain damage. Freeman and Petrosky escaped with minor injuries.
To this day, Petrosky said, he doesn't know how he got out of the car.
In a rare legal proceeding at Norfolk Naval Station, Freeman is being court-martialed on charges of drunken and reckless driving and negligent homicide -- after having been acquitted of similar charges last year in civilian court.
He deserves punishment, Navy Lt. Courtney Lewis, one of the prosecutors, told a five-member military jury in her opening argument.
"He killed Cameron Richardson. He killed Lauren Kok. He ruined Tom Jaskel's life," she said. "Hold him accountable for what he did."
Lewis said evidence will show that Freeman's blood alcohol content was above the state limit for drunken driving.
Freeman's civilian defense attorney, Michael Fasanaro, said the defense will contest the blood-alcohol evidence, arguing that Freeman's blood sample could have been contaminated in a break in the chain of custody.
He also said Freeman was distracted by "frolicking and noise in the back seat." Freeman told police after the accident that one of his passengers hit him in the back of the head.
"This is going to be a very, very emotional case," Fasanaro said, urging the jurors to base their decision on facts, not emotions.
Family members of the crash victims, some dabbing their eyes, listened intently to the testimony.
Erin Currie, who was driving a group of friends home from the same bar that night, testified that she was shocked by Freeman's speed as he passed her on Granby Street. She said she was driving around the speed limit, 35 mph, and estimated that the BMW was going at least twice that fast.
Albert Williams was driving a Hampton Roads Transit bus southbound on Granby Street. He heard tires squealing, saw the BMW's approaching headlights and thought to himself, "This guy's going to hit my bus."
When the car hit the tree, "it sounded like somebody had thrown a grenade," Williams said. Fragments of the BMW hurtled across the median and shattered the windshield of the bus.
Two Norfolk emergency medical technicians who treated Freeman at the scene testified that they smelled alcohol on his breath.
The trial is expected to last through next week.
Freeman, a cryptological technician assigned to the cruiser Vella Gulf, faces up to 10-1/2 years in prison if convicted on all the charges.