Probation upheld in drag-racing case

Judge refuses to write off time

Staff WriterDecember 5, 2006 

— Christopher G. Petersen, after finishing a three-month stint in jail for probation violations, believes he has fully served his punishment for participating in a 2001 drag-race that ended with the deaths of four Wake County teenagers.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens disagreed, and Monday ordered Petersen to fulfill the remaining eight months left of his three-year probation.

Petersen, 23, argued that Stephens should write off the probation in light of the time Petersen spent in the Wake County jail this fall for violating the terms of his probation. Petersen's attorney said he will appeal the judge's decision.

Petersen was racing Bryan Edwin Reaves, 18, down Interstate 540 in North Raleigh on May 30, 2001, when Reaves lost control and crashed, killing himself and his three 17-year-old passengers: Jamie Lynn Brewer, David Michael Smith and Matthew William Yurcak.

In 2004, Petersen pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of death by vehicle -- one for each crash victim -- and a misdemeanor charge of taking part in a drag race. Wake County prosecutors had dropped felony charges in the midst of a trial when issues arose with one witness' testimony, said Jeff Cruden, the assistant district attorney who handled the case. If a jury had convicted on the initial manslaughter charges, Peterson could have received up to eight years in state prison.

Instead, Peterson was given a 7-month jail sentence and put on probation for three years. He was also ordered to perform 480 hours of community service and was barred from driving until his probation expired.

In August, Petersen was sent to jail for violating his probation. He had only completed a fraction of his court-ordered community service and got a driver's license a year after starting his probation.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles had been told of Petersen's convictions, but was not notified by the Wake court system that Petersen was barred from driving for three years, said Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the agency.

"It would have physically stopped us from issuing him a license," Howell said, if the DMV received proper notification.

In the August court hearing, Stephens sent Petersen to jail by revoking the probation on two of the four death by vehicle charges, leaving the three remaining charges subject to probation.

On Monday, his defense attorneys argued that when Stephens revoked Petersen's probation in August, the judge did not have the legal authority to continue probation for the remaining charges.

"This is a very technical legal issue really," lawyer Nick Saparilas said.

Stephens rejected the arguments, and Petersen headed to see his probation officer immediately after court.

He did not answer a reporter's questions, referring comment to his attorneys.

Four trees planted near the accident site as memorials to the four victims were cut down in August 2005. The trees have since been replanted, but Raleigh police haven't been able to determine who was responsible for the vandalism. A reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Staff writer Sarah Ovaska can be reached at 829-4622 or sovaska@newsobserver.com.

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