Montpelier family demanding justice after losing daughter in I-95 crash last October

A Montpelier family is demanding justice after they say prosecutors have not brought serious charges against those accountable for 26-year-old Claire Wenzel’s d
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Va. (WWBT) - A Montpelier family is demanding justice after they say prosecutors have not brought serious charges against those accountable for 26-year-old Claire Wenzel’s death fast enough.

Several loved ones chanted outside Henrico’s courthouse Tuesday demanding justice for the beloved daughter, sister and friend.

26-year-old Claire Wenzel tragically lost her life when a drunk driver caused a multi-vehicle crash on I-95 on Oct. 30, 2022.

According to Virginia State Police, there were at least five crashes that night.

Claire was involved in the fourth crash when a driver tried to avoid the scene, sending her vehicle into the back of a Jeep.

“She was [the] designated driver that night. She wanted to make sure her friends could have a good time and still arrive home safely. That didn’t happen,” Claire’s mother, Donna Wenzel, said.

Donna says it wasn’t until Monday that they finally heard from prosecutors about filing charges. It’s been six months since Claire died.

Donna Wenzel says prosecutors allegedly told the family that one driver would be charged with a misdemeanor DUI. A second person at fault would allegedly be charged with reckless driving.

Donna called these charges a slap on the wrist.

“I do not feel the decision to bring this man to court should rely solely on the District Attorney’s opinion and their loose interpretation of the law,” Donna Wenzel said.

Claire’s younger sister, Emily, says she and other loved ones are losing faith in the justice system.

“It’s difficult to process and super disheartening that nothing is being done. I learned a long time ago that you can’t find closure in the justice system and that you have to find it elsewhere. It’s a shame that that happens to be the case,” Emily said.

The Wenzel family also claims Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office failed to conduct a complete and thorough investigation. They say charging decisions were made before all the necessary evidence and information.

Moving forward, the Wenzel family is calling for a special prosecutor to take over the case, hoping it will be submitted to a grand jury.

“The only thing Claire’s family and friends are asking for is for justice and for what happened to not just be in vain,” the victim’s friend Evelyn Hartung said.

NBC12′s Legal Analyst Steve Benjamin says prosecutors can be aggressive when charging those at fault with manslaughter. Still, prosecutors must be able to prove that impaired driving is what killed another person.

NBC12 did reach out to Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor released the following statement to NBC12:

“First and foremost, my thoughts are with those killed or injured during this crash.

There was a multi-vehicle crash that occurred in the early morning hours of October 30, 2022, shortly before 3:00 a.m., on Interstate 95 Northbound, in the vicinity of the I-295 exchange, wherein Claire Elizabeth Wenzel, the driver of one of the vehicles, died from her injuries. There was another driver who also suffered from severe injuries who was sent to MCV Hospital.

Virginia State Police responded to the incident and were responsible for handling the investigation. They were able to conclude their investigation of this matter on April 21, 2023, and attorneys from my office met with certain Wenzel family members on May 1st.

This investigation is ongoing, and the rules of ethics that are applicable to criminal prosecutions prohibit me from making comments on the evidence, trial strategy or likely outcomes of the case, so I am not permitted to speak as to the specifics of this matter, but the family who was present yesterday was made aware of the nature of the investigation, as well as the chronology of what the State Trooper had done to date.

At the end of the meeting, my attorneys made the family members who were present aware as to what our game plan was moving forward, to include who we believed should be charged and what applicable code sections would be considered, to include identifying some of the difficulties with unintentional results.

We will continue to keep the Wenzel family up to date with all future developments and offer our support.”

Taylor could not confirm what charges would be presented and when prosecutors plan to present them.