LYNCHBURG — Del. Matt Fariss pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor hit and run charge Friday in Campbell County General District Court in connection with a July incident that damaged fencing, a highway sign and a mailbox.
The plea was the first of two back-to-back court proceedings Friday afternoon before Judge Harold Black involving Fariss, R-Campbell.
In the second proceeding, a bench trial, Fariss was found not guilty of breaching the peace, a misdemeanor, in a confrontation with a neighbor in January.
Fariss ran unopposed in November and was elected to a second term in the 59th District, which encompasses Appomattox and Buckingham counties, as well as parts of Albemarle, Campbell and Nelson counties.
According to facts agreed to during the guilty plea, Fariss was driving a Dodge Ram pickup on Red House Red on July 29 when the vehicle struck a tree, went in and out of a ditch and “went airborne.”
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The truck stopped but left before police arrived, according to facts agreed to in court. No one was injured in the crash. Virginia State Police, which investigated the wreck, responded to the call at 6:24 p.m.
Fariss’ attorney, Mark Peake, said in court that a soda had fallen on the floor and the crash occurred after Fariss tried to retrieve it.
When asked after the hearing whether there was anything other than soda in the container, Fariss said, “No, it was a Mountain Dew bottle.”
Fariss, a cattle farmer, said he intended to fix the fence himself, but when he got to his farm nearby his tires were leaking, he said after the hearing. He left a note for the property owner the next day. The fence already had been fixed, he said.
Peake said Fariss accepted “full responsibility.”
Fariss was ordered to pay a $250 fine for causing damage between $250 and $500. He said he already paid for the fence damage.
Black then presided over the bench trial concerning a Jan. 5 altercation between Fariss and Ralph Ramsey of Gladys.
The court called in a special prosecutor for both cases — Augusta County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert J. Boylan — standard procedure when an elected official is charged.
At about 10 a.m. that morning, Fariss had driven by Ramsey’s driveway. He turned around when he saw Ramsey parked outside to address Ramsey about Fariss’ sons having blocked the driveway two weeks earlier, both parties said.
Ramsey’s driveway is an easement through property owned by Sam Dawson, who allows people to hunt there. Ramsey described the driveway having been repeatedly blocked by various people during hunting season.
Fariss and Ramsey both accused the other of being confrontational and threatening, while characterizing their own words and actions as reasonable.
Ramsey said Fariss, who is close to a foot taller than him, used a threatening posture and language. Fariss said Ramsey also used threatening language.
Ramsey filed a complaint with a magistrate that day and Fariss followed suit Jan. 8.
Boylan said the decision would come down to “who used the fighting words.”
Black said he could not find either defendant guilty and said they needed to resolve the dispute themselves.
Alex Rohr reports for The (Lynchburg) News & Advance.