Mars Heiress Charged in Fatal Crash - FindLaw Blotter
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Mars Heiress Charged in Fatal Crash

As we suspected would happen, Mars heiress Jacqueline Badger Mars, 74, is now facing criminal charges after a fatal crash that killed an 86-year-old woman and caused a pregnant passenger's miscarriage.

With reckless driving charges underway, what's at stake for the heiress who's worth a staggering $20.5 billion -- making her the third-richest woman in the United States?

Reckless Driving in Virginia

In Virginia, a reckless driving charge may result when someone shows a "reckless" or "willful" disregard for the safety of other people, including other drivers and pedestrians.

The Virginia's code includes 20 sections on reckless driving with specific statutes on reckless driving related to speed, racing, and a slew of other unsafe driving practices.

In this case, the Mars heiress allegedly told a witness that she fell asleep behind the wheel of her Porsche SUV. She then crossed a median and crashed into a minivan carrying six people, reports Washington D.C.'s WRC-TV.

Misdemeanor v. Felony Reckless Driving

Generally, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. But if at the time of the offense the defendant kills someone, or is driving without a valid license, then the charge goes up to a Class 6 felony with some pretty serious jail time if convicted.

Mars' driving caused the death of 86-year-old Irene Ellisor. Nevertheless, a felony may be taken off the table since Ellisor wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, reports WRC-TV.

To obtain a felony conviction, Virginia law requires that the offender be the "sole and proximate cause" of the death. So if it's determined that Elsinor's failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to her death, then a felony would no longer apply.

Evidentiary Issues

Research suggests that staggering number of people engage in drowsy driving, a dangerous habit that causes hundreds of fatal accidents every year.

Still, the law may be on Mars' side because of how difficult it is to prove drowsy driving. Prosecutors frequently face evidentiary roadblocks when trying to characterize fatigue as criminal behavior.

Because of how tough it is to build a drowsy driving case, and because Ellisor wasn't wearing a seatbelt, Mars could potentially face just a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction, which comes with relatively light penalties.

In addition to Mars' criminal case, civil lawsuits by the victims and their survivors are possible as well.

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