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Chief of Narrows police officer charged with involuntary manslaughter testifies

The judge estimates the trial will last five days

Wednesday marked day three in the trial of a Narrows Police Officer charged with involuntary manslaughter.

GILES COUNTY, Va. – Narrows Police Chief Bentley Ratcliffe testified Wednesday in the trial against one of his own officers charged with involuntary manslaughter.

On day three of the trial, the Commonwealth continued attempting to show the jury Chad Stilley, an officer with the Narrows Police Department, defied his own department policy. The defense countered that argument with its continued argument that Stilley was protecting the innocent.

Stilley was indicted for failure to yield right of way, reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter in summer 2021.

The charges are in connection to a fatal motorcycle crash last summer in Narrows at the intersection of US-460 and 3rd Street. Michael Acord, 28, of Rich Creek was the motorcyclist involved in the crash and died at the scene, according to Virginia State Police.

Two eyewitnesses took the stand Wednesday detailing their accounts of the crash.

The main eyewitness, Paul Pitzer, testified for about 45 minutes being the closest person to the crash. In fact, the defense on counter, argued it was Pitzer, the officer who was working to protect.

Pitzer was traveling down US-460 attempting to turn left into the Marathon gas station at the time of the crash.

Chris Tuck, the defense attorney, argues his client worried Pitzer would not see the motorcycle heading in his direction at nearly 80mph and stepped in to “save the innocent.”

“What came between you and that motorcycle,” questioned Tuck.

Pitzer answered, “the police car.”

“So, you’re telling this jury the motorcycle was heading straight towards you and there’s one thing that came between you and that motorcycle and that was that police officer,” said Tuck. “Is that correct?”

Lowly and quiet, Pitzer answered, “Yes sir.”

The Commonwealth argued whether that was truly Stilley’s intention as his car never made it into the lanes of travel with Pitzer.

To explain the specifics of the crash, the Commonwealth called the crash investigator to the stand.

Commonwealth Attorney Chris Rehak, of Radford, questioned Virginia State Police J.C. Reynolds for almost half the day Wednesday.

Reynolds investigated the crash and detailed the findings of his report. In sum, he found Acord to be mostly at fault and ultimately cleared Stilley.

Stilley’s entire interaction with the crash (from the moment he pulled out through impact) is estimated to be less than 10 seconds, according to Reynolds testimony. He also estimated Acord to be driving the motorcycle at an average speed of 78mph at the time of impact.

There was back-and-forth between the two attorneys over Reynolds providing his opinion to a witness about another one of the witnesses’ statements.

Tuesday, Devan Martin testified as an eyewitness to the crash. He stated during testimony he observed an officer place a lifeless Acord in handcuffs following the crash. Evidence proves that did not happen.

It was uncovered in court that Reynolds shared with a witness Martin’s (he did not name the witness during the conversation) statement “was all the way in left field.”

In part of his investigation, Reynolds crunched numbers to find out how much time Acord had to react to seeing Stilley’s patrol car in the street.

Reynolds testified the reaction time was 1.5 seconds and that Acord needed 695 feet to stop. Driving a motorcycle, Acord could have stopped in just over 300 feet.

A toxicologist testified there was no alcohol or drugs found in Michael Acord’s system at the time of the crash.

Chief Ratcliffe was grilled by the Rehak on his department policy and whether or not Stilley defied it.

While Rehak consistently referred to Stilley’s actions as a “roadblock,” Ratcliffe said he wouldn’t necessarily call it that. He says there was room for Acord to go around him. Though, he acknowledged Stilley did defy certain policies.

“Were you contacted at any point that night and asked if the defendant could set up a roadblock,” questioned Rehak. Narrows policy requires a Chief approval before a roadblock can be conducted.

“No,” answered Ratcliffe.

Stilley was the only officer on duty the night of the crash.

After the VSP investigation and conversation with the Giles County Commonwealth Attorney, Ratcliffe re-instated Stilley.

“Why would you not just wreck them all,” questioned Rehak. “I mean, what you’re saying to this jury is if you speed and don’t stop we can wreck them all!”

“No, sir. That’s not what I’m saying,” answered Ratcliffe.

The judge estimates the trial will last five days.

If convicted, Officer Chad Stilley faces up to 11 years behind bars.


About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.