Man faces 65 years in fatal DUI

Daily Press

When morning dawned April 11, Donna Mellis knew her youngest son Christopher was dead.

She went to the Williamsburg funeral home where the 19-year-old was taken. As a mother, she needed to see her son one more time. As a nurse, she wanted to lay hands on his body.

She asked them to unzip the body bag, then let her fingers confirm the traumatic injuries that had caused his death at the hands of what authorities believed was a drunken driver.

"The left side of his body was very damaged. His left eye was wide open," she testified Monday in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court. "Much of his left side was crushed. His left arm bone was broken and the skin severed. It was almost detached. ... The bones in his face felt crushed. But his right eye was closed and peaceful looking."

As she identified a photo of her son's mangled body lying in the back seat of the car where he was found by a James City County medic, she began to cry.

The medic confirmed the teen dead at the scene of the crash on April 10 in which a Jeep Liberty struck Mellis' Chrysler Cirrus almost head-on about 11:30 p.m. as he drove north on Richmond Road, near Barnes Road.

Matthew Ray Burch, 35, of New Kent County, already had two convictions for driving under the influence. On Monday, he was convicted again of DUI - as the third conviction it also is a felony - as well as felony homicide and reckless involuntary manslaughter involving a DUI. He faces up to 65 years in prison.

Burch told investigators he had been fishing and drinking at New Kent's Rock-A-Hock marina. The crash was more than two miles from where Rock-A-Hock Road intersects Richmond Road. The Jeep was seen on the wrong side of Richmond, making no effort to avoid oncoming traffic.

Burch later was found to have a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.26 - more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 in Virginia.

Burch was not seen getting out of the Jeep, but he was found by JCC police Officer Chris Gibson, bloody and injured, standing with onlookers. He never admitted to driving and told officers he remembered nothing about the accident. He did remember drinking at least six Coors Lights while fishing, several officers testified.

A medic testified the majority of Burch's injuries were on his left side. And the hefty damage to the Jeep was to the driver's side.

Burch declined to testify twice during his nearly four-hour trial.

Burch's defense attorney Robert E. Reibach argued there was no direct evidence that Burch was driving the Jeep that hit Mellis' car. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Powell agreed. Powell heard the case alone after Burch waived the right to a jury trial.

"There is no direct evidence that Mr. Burch was driving," Powell said before passing judgment. "But there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that shows he was the driver. It is not a reasonable hypothesis that some unknown person jumped out of the car and ran away and sustained no injuries during this traumatic automobile accident. There was no other person, because Mr. Burch was driving the car."

Burch is scheduled for a pre-sentence hearing Sept. 28.

Burch's DUI history

Matthew Ray Burch, 35, of New Kent County, has been convicted on three occasions:

* August 2001 in Virginia Beach

* March 2004 in Henrico County

* Monday in James City

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