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Woman Gets 5.5 to 20 Years in Fatal Bedminster DUI Crash

September 19, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Robert D. James, 215.348.6332, rdjames@buckscounty.org

Jaclyn Jones Chris Marinelli
     Jaclyn M. Jones           Christopher Marinelli

A Nockamixon Township woman whose third DUI last summer killed a 21-year-old driver and critically injured his girlfriend was sentenced Tuesday to serve five and one-half to 20 years in state prison.

Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary B. Gilman sentenced Jaclyn M. Jones to consecutive sentences of three and one-half to 10 years for homicide by vehicle while DUI and two to 10 years for aggravated assault while DUI.

Jones, 31, of Foeller Lane, pleaded guilty in May to those and other felonies for causing the Aug. 30, 2017, head-on crash on Route 611 in Bedminster Township.

She was impaired at the time by a mixture of drugs and was driving in violation of strict restrictions imposed on her driving privileges because of previous DUIs.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Jones’ northbound Jeep Patriot crossed a double-yellow line and struck a southbound Saturn SL1 sedan driven by Christopher Marinelli of Bedminster, killing him instantly.

Marinelli’s passenger and girlfriend, Gabrialle Otero, was flown from the scene and hospitalized in critical condition with skull and neck fractures, traumatic brain injuries, and other fractures and internal wounds.

“Not only am I emotionally distraught, but I am in physical pain every day,” Otero, 21, told Gilman, saying she also suffers from memory loss, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. “I wake up with pain throughout my body that I know will be there for the rest of my life. Some days it’s debilitating, leaving me lying in bed for a whole day.”

Jones, who suffered lesser injuries, was taken to St. Luke’s University Hospital in Bethlehem, where she consented to a blood draw. Testing by NMS Labs revealed that Jones’ blood contained amphetamine, clonazepam, oxycodone, topiramate, and fentanyl in concentrations sufficient to have rendered her impaired. 

“These violations were willful, they were knowing, they were deliberate and they were selfish,” said Gilman, who also imposed concurrent state prison sentences for DUI and two counts of accidents involving death or serious injury while not properly licensed.

Jones’ license had been suspended because of two DUI convictions – one alcohol-related, the other drug-related. She had, however, successfully applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for an Occupational Limited License (OLL), which permitted her to drive only to and from work and school, and only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays.

Investigators found that Jones had violated those conditions by going shopping at the Willow Grove Park Mall before heading home, stopping at a Wawa shortly before the crash at 9:11 p.m. 

Two witnesses who had been in a vehicle in front of Smith’s Jeep on 611 told police that she had been swerving and driving at irregular speeds, closing to within a half-vehicle length of their car before backing off. The witnesses said they saw the Jeep swerve across the center line 10 to 12 times before the crash.

Marinelli, who had gone for a drive with Otero after work, swerved to try to avoid the oncoming Jeep. But Jones struck him head-on, never braking.

In doing so, she cut short the life of a young man described repeatedly in court as ambitious, hard-working and uncommonly kind and compassionate.

To Caitlyn Augustyn, his co-worker at Comcast Business, Marinelli was “like a brother I never had,” who shared his lunch when she had none, listened during her rough patches in life, helped her figure out work problems “and never make you feel stupid about it. He was the friend to get into your car and ask you to put your seatbelt on because `your life is important and you are special cargo.’”

To Otero, he was the man she hoped to marry and start a family with someday.

“I constantly have an overwhelming feeling that I was not the one who should have survived the accident, that Chris had so much going for him,” she said. “Chris was my everything … We spent time together every day and I feel lost without him, like I’m missing a part of myself.”

Joseph Marinelli told of the day his son, then a 6th-grader at Groveland Elementary School, cheerfully greeted by name every student in a classroom of severely disabled children, most of them unable to speak or wave back.

“I asked, `Chris, how do you know all those children in that class when they don’t go to the same classes as you and stay in that one room all day?’’’ Marinelli said. “He said, `Dad, I’ve been volunteering to read to them for one hour a week since I was in third grade. They’re some of my best friends.’

“This is the person Chris was,” his father said. “Christopher looked beyond anyone’s physical appearance and looked into their soul, and he continued that into his short adult life.”

His mother, Donna Marinelli, spoke wrenchingly about her abiding, exhausting sense of grief and loss, and drew a contrast between her son’s conscientious insistence on driving safely and Jones’ deadly recklessness. She implored Gilman to impose a sentence to help ensure that “his death counts for something.”

“My son was killed by a driver with a reckless disregard for human life, a disregard she knew to be dangerous, and a disregard for the safety of the general public,” she said. “…Perhaps the proper sentence will be seen as a pronouncement by the court that prescription drugs are no safer [for driving] than illicit drugs, and that a prescription is not an excuse.”

Jones’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, attempted to draw just that distinction, saying Jones’ intoxication was different from that of someone who gets extremely drunk at a bar and chooses to drive anyway. He said Jones long had been prescribed various medications for Lyme disease, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other maladies, and blamed doctors for not explicitly warning patients not to drive after taking certain prescription drugs.

“Our society still hasn’t recognized that prescription drugs are the same as alcohol” when it comes to driving, Diamondstein argued. “This was not a voluntary intoxication case … This is not a case where she went out and chugged some beers and got into a car and drove.”

Jones read an apology in court to the victims’ families, stumbling at times over the words. “Whatever punishment I get, I will never forgive myself for what happened,” she said. “If I would have known, I never would have driven on my medication.”

Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James scoffed at Diamondstein’s argument and Jones’ apology.

“She knew” the dangers, he told Gilman, and drove anyway. “Someday she’s going to get on the road again, Judge, and that is a frightening thought.”

James argued that Jones was far more aware of the risks of prescription drugs than are most drivers. Not only did her long-prescribed medications bear explicit warnings not to ingest them and drive, he said, but Jones’ second DUI was for being intoxicated on prescription medications.

“There’s nothing that any one of us in this courtroom can do, with regard to their own safety … when there are people like Ms. Jones on the roadway,” James said. “Every week in Bucks County, someone like Ms. Jones is destroying families. Every week.”

The case was investigated by the Bedminster Township Police Department and the District Attorney’s Crash Investigation Team.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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