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The man driving the vehicle that killed local radio personality Brian Strobel on March 7 has been cleared of a criminal charge.
A 2001 Nissan truck driven by Ralph Thomas Rapillo, 42, struck Strobel as he was walking a dog in the area of Kingswood Boulevard and Harris Mill Court.
Strobel, 64, who anchored WFLS radio's morning show for 30 years, died at the scene. Rapillo was later charged with reckless driving after prosecutors determined that the evidence did not support a felony manslaughter charge.
Judge Ricardo Rigual ruled Tuesday in Spotsylvania County General District Court that the evidence did not support the misdemeanor reckless-driving charge either and found Rapillo not guilty. Rapillo would have faced up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine had he been convicted.
According to the evidence presented by prosecutor Tom Shaia, Strobel and the dog were off the road walking about 4:50 p.m. when Rapillo's southbound truck left the road and hit a mailbox and a paper box before striking Strobel. The impact threw Strobel onto the hood and back onto the ground, where he was run over. He was pronounced dead at 5 p.m.
The truck then struck a trash can before ending up in a nearby yard. Police determined that the vehicle traveled about 170 feet after leaving the roadway. The dog suffered rib injuries in the crash.
Shaia's witnesses Tuesday were a deputy who arrived after Strobel had been pronounced dead and two teenagers who were playing basketball 200 to 300 feet away. Neither teen saw the truck leave the road, but one saw it strike Strobel.
Deputy J.L. Slate said Rapillo remained at the scene and called 911. He said Rapillo told him he was heading from work and was almost home, but did not say what caused him to lose control of the vehicle.
Police confiscated Rapillo's cell and work phones, and records showed that he was on neither at the time of the crash. It was a clear day, and there was also no evidence of alcohol or drugs.
One of the teens described Rapillo's truck as "flying" into a yard after the crash, but Rapillo said he was going the 25-mph speed limit and defense attorney Mark Gardner argued there was no evidence to contradict that.
"The mere fact that an accident occurred does not automatically mean it was reckless driving," Gardner said. "Mr. Rapillo has civil liability, not criminal."
The only legal remedy left for Strobel's family is to file a civil suit against Rapillo.
Shaia unsuccessfully argued that Rapillo's failure to steer the truck away from Strobel even after hitting the mailbox and paper box was proof that he was reckless.
Keith Epps: 540/374-5404
According to the General District Court Online Case Information System for Spotsylvania County General District Court, Ralph T. Rapillo was charged with reckless driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor, under Virginia Code A.46.2-852.
That section of the code, "Reckless driving; general rule" says, "Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving."