Rockbridge County gas station explosion case declared a mistrial

The jury was dismissed late last month

ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. – The case in a deadly gas station explosion in Rockbridge County in 2019 has been declared a mistrial.

This comes after the jury deliberating the case was dismissed in late August. The jury deliberated for more than a day and still couldn’t reach a verdict.

The explosion at South River Market killed four people in May of 2019.

Phillip Westmoreland is the man believed to be responsible for the explosion, charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

According to Virginia State Police, Westmoreland was the man who was driving the fuel delivery truck that day. He worked for a Roanoke-based oil company and refueled South River Market less than an hour before the explosion.

During the trial, investigators said Westmoreland was the one who delivered fuel to the gas station ahead of the explosion.

Before the judge announced his mistrial decision on Tuesday, he spoke about the cost of the trial and potentially a retrial, which Westmoreland’s defense attorney, Rob Dean, emphasized after the hearing.

“This was a very expensive case for the commonwealth to try. It took about two weeks of the court’s time and there are expenses for the various experts the commonwealth called, which is a burden on the taxpayers,” Dean said.

Now, it’s up to the Commonwealth to decide whether they’ll try the case again.

The defense said if there’s a second trial, they’ll stand by their beliefs that the explosion was an accident and not by negligence by Westmoreland.

“We felt very strongly about our case and in every case, it’s about the pursuit of truth and we think the truth that happened that day is that there was faulty equipment that caused this horrible tragedy,” Dean said.

There was a meeting scheduled for Oct. 31, which is when the Commonwealth was set to decide whether they will retry the case or not – and that meeting was postponed to Nov. 15.

On Nov. 15, the case was continued to Dec. 6 at 4:00 p.m., according to court records.

About the Authors

Sydney joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2021.

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.

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