BEDFORD — A Roanoke man was sentenced to one year in prison Tuesday on charges of involuntary manslaughter and DUI in what prosecutors said was a fiery, methamphetamine-involved crash that killed his passenger last summer.
Neil Anthony Spencer, 64, entered Alford pleas to the two charges in Bedford Circuit Court in exchange for a reduced charge — from aggravated involuntary manslaughter, which bears a sentence range of one to 20 years, to involuntary manslaughter, which bears a sentence range up to 10 years. An Alford plea means a defendant acknowledges there’s enough evidence for a conviction and serves as a guilty plea without the defendant admitting guilt.
Spencer was driving his 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee west on Radford Church Road near Moneta when he ran off the right side of the road at about 6:30 a.m. July 3, according to evidence presented by prosecutor John Wheelock at the hearing.
The vehicle crashed through a fence and an electric fence, then traveled 119 feet through a field before hitting a tree, Wheelock said. Spencer was able to get out of the Jeep, which caught fire at the scene, and was taken to the hospital where he was treated for minor injuries, Virginia State Police said at the time.
When law enforcement interviewed Spencer at the hospital, he said he was alone at the time of the crash, according to Wheelock. Blood drawn from Spencer less than an hour after the crash showed he had elevated levels of methamphetamine in his system.
Spencer later admitted he had used meth earlier in the day and before the crash, Wheelock said, but maintained no one was in the vehicle with him.
Investigators found a body in the Jeep’s passenger seat that was “burnt beyond recognition,” Wheelock said. DNA tests confirmed the remains were those of 60-year-old James Sparks, who was doing tree work with Spencer at the time and temporarily living with him. Wheelock said Sparks was from southwestern Virginia. A medical examiner determined he died accidentally because of blunt force trauma to the head.
Wheelock asked for a one-year prison sentence, well below the sentencing guidelines for Spencer based on the crash and his history, which recommended a low end of five years and three months.
He said the single witness to the crash died in September and Sparks’ family has agreed to the sentence. Another factor that drove him to seek a lower sentence was Spencer’s health — he said Spencer was debilitated by the crash and has had medical crises while in jail.
Daniel McNamara, Spencer’s defense attorney, said there was sufficient evidence to convict his client, and Spencer didn’t say anything when given a chance by the court to do so.
Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike followed Wheelock’s agreed on recommendation of a one-year active prison sentence on the involuntary manslaughter charge, with credit for time Spencer’s already served, and a $250 fine on the DUI charge. After he’s released, he’ll have to be of good behavior for 10 years and his driver’s license will be suspended indefinitely.