‘We’re disappointed’: Montpelier family distraught after drunk driver granted bond

The family of Claire Wenzel, who was killed in a chain-reaction crash last year, is still fighting for justice
The family of Claire Wenzel, who was killed in a chain-reaction crash last year, is still fighting for justice.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 6:55 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A Montpelier family is still fighting for justice after a man they say allegedly killed their daughter and sister was granted bond Thursday.

“We’re disappointed how the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has handled this case thus far, and we’re not finished here,” Katie Wenzel said.

Luis Javier Quinones made his first court appearance at Henrico General District Court Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

Quinones is charged with misdemeanor DUI for the chain-reaction crash that took 26-year-old Claire Wenzel’s life on Oct. 31 last year.

Quinones was granted a $1,500 bond.

Prosecutors opposed bond over concerns that Quinones could be a flight risk. They say Quinones owns a property in Florida.

Defense Attorney Cody Villalon argued his client wasn’t a threat.

He says if Quinones wanted to flee, he would have since the crash happened six months ago.

Quinones must submit to alcohol and drug testing as part of his secure bond.

Under Thursday’s court order, he cannot leave Virginia or operate a vehicle.

The Wenzel family is distraught by this outcome.

The family says they hoped the suspect would face more severe charges like involuntary manslaughter or at least let a grand jury decide the suspect’s fate.

Katie Wenzel, the victim’s sister, says the punishment is a slap on the wrist.

“I feel like there’s a lot of injustice going on, and it should be brought to light,” Katie Wenzel said.

Virginia State Police say Quinones hit a guardrail before spinning back onto I-95, which led to the seven-car collision.

Henrico Commonwealth Attorney’s Office says his blood alcohol level was .12 at the time of the crash, which is well above the legal limit of .08.

Prosecutors also say Claire drove into another car and died on impact.

This sequence of events differs from Virginia State Police’s investigation, which stated Claire’s car was T-boned and thrown into the suspect’s jeep by a third car.

Prosecutors also say Claire, the designated driver that night, had drugs in her system.

Prosecutors say Claire’s autopsy report shows:

  • Benzoylecgonine 0.37 mg/L
  • Cocaine 0.010 mg/L
  • THC Carboxylic Acid 0.017 mg/L
  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 0.0060 mg/L

The victim’s mother, Donna Wenzel, claims there were not enough drugs in Claire’s system.

“The level of cocaine in her system is not impairing at all. In fact, I think it has to be 20 times that amount to cause any problems,” Donna Wenzel said.

As the family continues to grapple with the death of their beloved daughter and sister, they’re looking to pursue other options in hopes of getting justice for Claire.

The family filed a civil lawsuit on April 17.

“We can’t let this slide because this is my sister, and I feel like to show much one she means to me and how much I love her, I need to fight for justice for her,” Katie Wenzel said.

Henrico Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor responded to NBC12 for comment on Thursday.

“I met with the mother and sister after the hearing in an effort to assure them that we are all working together to assist them in understanding the process and doing everything we can to address the loss of their loved one,” Taylor said.

Quinones’ trial is set for Aug. 21 at 11 a.m.