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Wrong-way driver on Beltway gets 10 years for manslaughter

A drunk driver who drove the wrong way on the Capital Beltway and killed another driver in a head-on crash last year was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison by a Fairfax County judge.

Cristina L. Palese, a 28-year-old mother of two young children, was driving home to Springfield after working at a National Harbor restaurant on March 21, 2009. Travis J. Isaac, 26, of Woodbridge, who had not had a valid driver's license since 2002, somehow steered his Lincoln LS sedan into the eastbound lanes and into oncoming traffic, where he smashed into Palese's Nissan Sentra near the Van Dorn Street exit.

Palese was killed instantly. Isaac's blood-alcohol level was measured at 0.16, twice the legal definition of intoxication in Virginia. An empty bottle of Grey Goose vodka was found on the floor of his car.

Isaac went to trial on one charge of aggravated involuntary manslaughter in January, and his lawyer theorized that perhaps Palese was the one driving the wrong way. No one could be found who witnessed the 3:30 a.m. crash, and accident reconstruction analysis is not admissible in Virginia criminal court.

The jury didn't buy it. They convicted Isaac after two hours of deliberation.

Isaac then took the witness stand and made a tearful apology to Palese's family. The jury also heard of Isaac's prior conviction for drunk driving, his convictions for burglary, petty larceny, possession of marijuana, attempted firearm possession and three previous driving on a suspended license convictions.

Given a range of zero to 20 years, the jury imposed a nine-year sentence, which stunned Palese's family.

But misdemeanor charges of drunk driving and driving on a suspended license were separated from the manslaughter trial, and Isaac pleaded guilty to those last month. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Stanley P. Klein could have added another two years to the jury's nine year term -- one year for each charge --and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Camille Turner asked him to do so.

Isaac again apologized to the Palese family, turning to face Palese's father as he said, "I'm sorry for what I've done and I hope you'll find it in your hearts one day to forgive me."
Klein declined to impose an additional year on the drunk driving charge, saying the jury knew he was drunk when it reached its nine-year sentence. But he did impose an additional year for Isaac's fourth driving on a suspended license conviction.

The judge acknowledged Isaac's sincere remorse, "but your remorse is too late," Klein said. "The remorse for your actions needed to occur before that tragic night...When you take another human being's life, there has to be a significant price to pay."

Palese's father, Mike Palese, said he was satisfied with the ten-year sentence. "I'm not vindictive," he said, "but like the judge said, there needs to be a punishment."

-- Tom Jackman

By Tom Jackman  |  March 5, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax , From the Courthouse , Tom Jackman , Traffic Accidents , Updates  
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Comments

This never should have happened. This guy should have been rotting in jail. I will pray for Ms. Palese's family.

Posted by: brandip_77 | March 5, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Travis J. Isaac, 26, of Woodbridge, who had not had a valid driver's license since 2002, somehow steered his Lincoln LS sedan into the eastbound lanes and into oncoming traffic, where he smashed into Palese's Nissan Sentra near the Van Dorn Street exit.

Just 10 years?! Just? She was a mother. Either the state can't afford long durations of housing criminals or the lawyer is the new Johnny Cocrahn

Posted by: FiatBooks | March 6, 2010 7:09 AM | Report abuse

9 years for murder, not a bad deal for the murderer!! The judge should have thrown the book at him, better yet the whole law library!! I believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth when it comes to dishing out punishment and this guy should be hanged in public for this senseless death!!!! Sell tickets and and offset some if the budget deficit!!!

Posted by: Klimax | March 6, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

He should be forced to drink himself to death

Posted by: bradmoser | March 6, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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