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Wise woman pleads guilty to murder in wrong-way crash

Stephen Igo • Aug 16, 2018 at 1:44 PM

WISE — The 36-year-old Coeburn woman who caused a fatal car crash by attempting to avoid a police checkpoint pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Wise County Circuit Court Thursday.

The trial of Samantha Rae Dennis was scheduled to begin next week. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 17. She faces a maximum penalty of 42 years in prison.

On Dec. 23, 2016, Dennis was traveling eastbound on U.S. Route 58-A near Coeburn when she approached a sobriety checkpoint manned by law enforcement officers. On seeing the police, Dennis made a U-turn and began traveling westbound on the eastbound lane into oncoming traffic.

Authorities say Dennis was traveling at a high rate of speed while ignoring efforts by police to stop her vehicle. Dennis crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by 32-year-old Rebecca Williams Starling, resulting in Starling’s death and injuries to her 5- and 2-year-old children.

Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said Dennis told police she had taken prescription medications, specifically Xanax, Klonipin and Subutex, the day before the crash.

“Two children were severely injured and horrifically lost their mother the night before Christmas Even in 2016 because of one person’s senseless act of selfishness,” Slemp said in a release. “Samantha Dennis displayed a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. We will never fully comprehend the tragedy of this family’s loss. We pray for their healing and that they find justice.”

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