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Woman convicted of reckless driving, leaving scene after striking cyclist

Woman convicted of reckless driving, leaving scene after striking cyclist

Ashley Baker will be sentenced in May for leaving the scene after a man was seriously injured.

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LEXINGTON — Ashley Paige Baker pleaded no contest Monday to reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident that left a Roanoke-area bicyclist with grievous injuries.

The 38-year-old Lexington woman was convicted of both charges and will be sentenced later.

On the morning of June 4, Wes Wilmer of Troutville was biking through Rockbridge County, heading north on U.S. 11 as part of a 145-mile training ride, when he was struck from behind by Baker’s white Nissan Maxima.

Still recovering from his injuries, Wilmer used crutches to make it to the witness stand Monday in Rockbridge County Circuit Court. He testified that he has little memory of what happened after Baker clipped him with the right bumper of her car, flipping his bicycle and leaving him lying on the roadside.

“I remember waking up on one elbow, being assisted by someone making a telephone call” to 911, the 58-year-old competitive bicyclist recalled.

Although Wilmer knew he was badly injured — four bones in his lower left leg were severely broken and his calf was ripped open — “I really didn’t know what I was looking at at the time,” he testified.

Later, in the hospital, he learned the full extent of his injuries: five broken ribs and a collapsed lung, a broken shoulder blade, a concussion, and a leg so mangled that it required two operations — one to save the limb and a second to insert a 14-inch titanium rod

Wilmer, the former president of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, says he still cannot stand to put any weight on his leg.

Baker, who has a history of previous traffic charges, did not testify Monday. Her attorney, David Natkin, said a field sobriety test found no evidence that she had been drinking, and an examination of her cellphone showed that she was not talking or texting at the time of the accident.

After police tracked Baker down later that day, she said she thought she might have hit a bag of trash or a recycling bin on the side of the road, according to a summary of evidence presented by Commonwealth’s Attorney Bucky Joyce.

Several motorists witnessed the collision or its aftermath. One saw Baker’s car hit Wilmer’s bicycle as he pedaled close to the white line on the edge of the two-lane highway; another spotted Baker several miles down the road, where she had stopped to inspect the damaged bumper and headlight on her car before continuing to Fairfield on a shopping trip.

At the scene, police collected fragments of the headlight assembly that were later matched to Baker’s car.

After hearing a summary of the evidence, Judge Michael Irvine convicted Baker of reckless driving and hit-and-run involving an injury. He allowed her to remain free on bond until a sentencing hearing set for May 4.

At an earlier hearing, Baker was convicted of reckless driving and sentenced to eight months in jail. She appealed the misdemeanor case to Circuit Court — where prosecutors brought a second, felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident — before deciding not to go forward with a trial.

While not admitting guilt with her pleas of no contest, Baker did not dispute the prosecution’s evidence. Natkin said evidence about her state of mind at the time of the crash will be presented at the sentencing hearing in May.

Baker’s prior history of traffic charges includes a 2013 case in which a minivan she was driving crashed into an abutment of a bridge spanning the Maury River, killing her 8-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old niece. In that case, a judge found no evidence of reckless driving.

Although Wilmer can’t help but wonder about Baker’s driving record, he said after the hearing Monday that he harbors no hard feelings toward her.

“I never had that pent-up anger,” he said. “If I retain any anger over what someone did to me, then maybe it takes away from me rehabilitating myself to the level I can be again.”

Wilmer said he still hopes to bicycle competitively again. At the time of the collision, he was training for a race in Michigan. Wilmer was nationally ranked in the sport of ultracycling, which involves long distances covered in 12 hours or more.

But the recovery is taking longer than expected. “If it takes a year just to be able to walk again, let alone do a 12-hour race at 20 miles per hour, it’s such a huge gap,” he said.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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