Petition Launched To Keep Drunk Driver In Jail; Va. Man Not Eligible For Parole Until Next Year

OCEAN CITY — A petition circulating calling for the denial of parole for a Virginia man who struck and killed a pedestrian in Ocean City last year gained momentum this week with nearly 3,000 signatures, but despite a pending hearing, the defendant is not eligible for release until February 2014 at the earliest.

Family and friends of Matthew Jude Cheswick, a 2008 graduate of Glenelg High School and Towson University student who was struck and killed by drunk driver on Coastal Highway on May 28 last year, recently launched a petition they intend to forward to the Maryland Parole Commission and the Worcester County Circuit Court seeking a denial of an early parole for the convicted defendant, Diogo Miller Facchini, who pleaded guilty last September to negligent homicide by motor vehicle and was sentenced in November to five years in prison.

The petition started late last week when friends and family learned Facchini was already eligible for a parole hearing, if not an early release, and by late yesterday already included 2,809 signatures.

“Today, March 28, 2013, it was found that Facchini is already eligible for parole,” the petition reads. “It has not even been five months since the sentencing yet this man could be walking the streets again soon. Please, I encourage you to sign the petition in efforts to deny the parole of Facchini, making him serve the amount of time he deserves.”

Around 1:20 a.m. on May 28, Ocean City Police responded to the area of 54th Street and Coastal Highway for a reported hit-and-run accident involving a pedestrian. The investigation revealed the pedestrian, later identified as Matthew Jude Cheswick, was attempting to cross Coastal Highway from east to west when he was struck by an Isuzu Rodeo traveling in the bus lane.

After striking the victim, the driver, identified as Facchini, 30, of Lorton, Va., continued to travel north on Coastal Highway before turning right on 55th Street, where witnesses followed his vehicle until he was apprehended by police. The preliminary investigation revealed Facchini’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Facchini, who was not injured during the collision, was arrested and charged with homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated, leaving the scene of a fatal collision, driving under the influence and while impaired and numerous other traffic violations. In September in Circuit Court, Facchini pleaded guilty to negligent homicide by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and failure to immediately stop a vehicle at the scene of an accident involving a fatality and a pre-sentence investigation was ordered.

Back in Circuit Court in November, Facchini was sentenced to five years in jail for the negligent homicide by motor vehicle count and was also placed on probation for five years and fined $5,000. Facchini was also sentenced to five years in jail for the failure to immediately stop a vehicle at the scene of an accident involving a fatality, but that sentence was suspended.

Now, about five months later, a process is underway to schedule a parole hearing for Facchini, which has stunned the victim’s family and friends. Maryland Parole Commission Chairman David Blumberg, who will serve on the two-person committee that presides over Facchini’s eventual parole hearing, said the protocol calling for the hearing should not be taken as a sign the defendant could soon be walking out of jail.

Blumberg said the minimum Facchini will be required to serve before he eligible for any release is a quarter of his original sentence, or 15 months in this case, which would make his earliest release date sometime in February 2014.

“He’s eligible for a hearing, but that does not mean he’s eligible for any release,” he said. “He is required to serve at the very minimum a quarter of his sentence and with a five-year sentence, that means he will have to serve at least 15 months.”

Blumberg said yesterday he understood the concerns of the victim’s family and friends over a pending parole hearing, but allayed those worries by pointing out the protocol calls for the scheduling of a hearing to accommodate the necessary paperwork and notification process but does not signal any intention of an early release for Facchini.

“People are alarmed when they hear he is eligible for a hearing already, but just because he is eligible for a hearing does not mean he is eligible for a release,” he said. “Typically, in cases involving a sentence of five years or less, we try to get the paperwork rolling for a hearing as soon as administratively possible, but that is not indicative of our position on his release.”

Nonetheless, Cheswick’s family and friends began circulating the petition last week and had collected nearly 3,000 signatures by late yesterday.

“This man selfishly got behind the wheel of a car while drunk and took the life of a young man who had all the potential in the world,” the petition reads. “Please, let’s make it known that Facchini deserves to be in prison for his full punishment. Allowing this man to walk free after too little a punishment would not only be a travesty to Matt’s life, but also a travesty to what Matt stood for.”

Blumberg said the parole commission routinely gets letters and statements from victims in advance of parole hearings, but said the sheer volume of support through the petition in the Facchini case was fairly unprecedented.

“We often get letters from victims, but petitions are a little unusual,” he said. “In this particular case, that’s an awful lot of signatures, probably the most I’ve ever seen in my nine years as chairman. It’s highly unusual.”

Blumberg said the petition is not binding and there is no finite number of signatures needed to affect the desired outcome, but it would certainly be given full consideration when Facchini’s hearing date comes around.

“There are a lot of statutory factors to consider and victim impact statements and petitions such as this are certainly part of that,” he said. “We’ll review everything very carefully before making any determination about his release.”

Given the circumstances of the case, Blumberg said the petition and any other letters and victim impact statements would be given careful consideration.

“We’re very sensitive in cases like this that involve a loss of life,” he said. “These types of cases are among the most important we hear and we’ll be very sensitive to impact of our decision for the victim’s family and friends.”