Driver remorseful for accident that killed two

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Mark Oates stands after being sentenced to two suspended jail terms Friday afternoon by Washington County Common Pleas court Judge Mark Kerenyi.

A man whose lapse in judgment resulted in the deaths of two people in August 2017 was sentenced in Washington County Common Pleas Court Friday afternoon to two suspended jail terms, a year of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Mark Oates, 31, of 711 Myrtle St., Parkersburg, was driving a commercial box truck on Aug. 19. 2017, southbound on I-77 in Washington County when he missed the exit he should have taken and decided to use a crossover at milemarker 13, reserved for use by emergency vehicles, to go back the way he came. When he slowed in the passing lane to use the crossover, a pickup truck behind him towing a low-bed trailer had to slow suddenly and a three-wheel motorcycle crashed into the trailer.

John Stephen Long, who was driving the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and his wife, Kristi Long, who was a passenger on it, both were thrown off the motorcycle and died as a result of the crash.

Oates was indicted by a Washington County grand jury on March 26 on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, a third-degree felony. He pleaded not guilty and went to trial in October.

On Oct. 31, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on both counts, but exercised its option to find Oates guilty of the lesser, contained offense of vehicular homicide on both counts, which is a first-degree misdemeanor.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Daniel Silwani, assistant Washington County prosecutor, said he had difficulty with sentencing recommendations.

“The state has struggled with this, and we understand Mr. Oates is very remorseful, and I have no doubt in my mind that he is,” Silwani said. “Still, there are two victims who no longer are with us because of his action, and the court needs to remember that is the whole reason we are here. The state recommends a jail term on top of probation.”

Oates’ attorney, Ray Smith, pointed out that his client has a clean record and a job.

“This is a tragic case, and the jury was correct in convicting him of a misdemeanor. It was certainly not intentional, and he would take that day back if he could,” Smith said. “He would like for others to learn from his mistake. He is a law-abiding citizen with strong family support, he has a job and he wants to keep it, and I would ask the court not to impose jail. He is willing to speak in schools, to tell people not to make the same mistake he did.”

Given a chance to make a statement, Oates said, “I am willing to do whatever it takes, to help people, I’m 100 percent down with anything it takes.”

A first-degree misdemeanor carries a maximum jail sentence of 180 days.

Washington County Common Pleas Judge Mark Kerenyi sentenced Oates to 90 days on each count but suspended the jail sentences and included 200 hours of community service, to be completed in 11 months, and a year of probation with the sentence.

“You have no prior adjudications or offenses, you’ve led a law-abiding life, and you have genuine remorse for this offense,” the judge said. “This was a tragic mistake that resulted in a loss of life, but you didn’t intend to commit a crime.”

Oates who lives in Parkersburg, is a commercial truck driver, and Kerenyi noted that in Ohio the offense carries with it a mandatory drivers license suspension of a minimum of three years. He added that West Virginia authorities will have to be notified about the suspension.

Smith said after the hearing that it was a good outcome for his client, who is willing to make public presentations about the error in judgment he made. “Go that extra three or four miles to the next exit, don’t do what I did, is the message,” he said.

John Stephen “Steve” Long and Kristi Long were from Union, W. Va. Steve Long, 67, was a carpenter, a Navy veteran and member of Vietnam Veterans of American, and owned a contracting firm, Long’s Construction. Kristi Long, 66, was a teacher, a musician and a 4-H leader, according to their obituary posted online by the Groves-Mann Funeral Home in Union. The list of survivors includes numerous brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren.