Hansel case comes to a close


Neil Haggerty

After hearing Judge Jay Swett read a sentence for three years in prison and seven years suspended, former Washington and Lee student Nicholas Hansel told the members of the courtroom that he was “profoundly sorry” for his actions.

Hansel was the driver of an SUV that crashed and killed another W&L student, Kelsey Durkin, and seriously injured two others on Dec. 3, 2014. He pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, two counts of maiming while under the influence and one count of driving under the influence.

“It’s just not a case where there are winners,” Commonwealth Attorney Bucky Joyce said outside the Rockbridge County Court on Thursday. He said he was satisfied with the results of the plea.

When presenting evidence to the court, Joyce said blood tests showed Hansel’s blood-alcohol content was 0.16 percent after the crash, which is twice the legal limit to drive in Virginia.

In August, Rockbridge County Judge Michael Irvine rejected and sealed a plea deal that he said did not serve justice. The W&L Journalism and Mass Communications department filed a complaint to have the plea unsealed, but Swett said that knowledge of the contents of the original plea would limit Hansel’s chance for a fair trial by jury.

That plea was unsealed by Clerk of the Court Bruce Patterson following Hansel’s arraignment. It included a 13-year sentence plus six years probation and 1,000 hours of community service, but Hansel would have only served one year in prison.

The case would have gone to a jury trial if the plea had not been not accepted on Thursday. When considering whether to accept the second plea, Swett said questions about the aggravated nature of the charges could have meant a lesser sentence for Hansel.

The judge also considered the support for the plea from the Durkin family and the two students who suffered serious injuries, as well as their wishes not to testify in a jury trial.

In a courtroom filled with members of his family, friends and the greater community, Hansel said, “I made a tragic error in judgment.” He said he hopes to live his life the way that Kelsey lived and he hopes to help young people in the future from making the same mistakes.

Defense Attorney John Lichtenstein said he hopes that everyone involved can move forward.

“All of these kids knew each other, loved each other and still love each other,” Lichtenstein said.

Laura Durkin, Kelsey’s mother, thanked the Washington and Lee, Lexington and Fairfield County, Ct. communities for their love and support this past year. She asked that newspapers print the following statement:

“I would like to take a moment to reflect upon my daughter’s life. Kelsey was compassionate, effervescent and giving to everyone that she met and knew, always there for a friend in need.  Her smile was magnetic with those twinkling, bright blue eyes and curly long blonde hair that fell in ringlets around her face.  A light radiated from within.  How truly devastated her mother, father and brother are without her joy and love of life.  Her unconditional love. Time has not erased this sense of emptiness. There will forever be that something, that true joy, missing from our lives.

We would like to thank the W&L, Lexington and Fairfield County, CT communities for all of their love and support throughout the past year. You are a testament to how many lives that Kelsey touched. Older or younger, Kelsey branched outside her supposed peer group to interact with those from different backgrounds.  She loved life, yet gave love back in return.”