- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2000

A lawyer who killed a teen with her car in March pleaded guilty to felony hit-and-run in Fairfax (Va.) Circuit Court yesterday, but will serve only a year in jail.

A judge sentenced Jane L. Wagner, 30, to the maximum five years, then suspended all but one year, which she will begin serving in March, after her child is born.

Wagner yesterday admitted driving her silver Mercedes Benz along Route 7 near Great Falls on March 8 and striking Naeun Yoon, sending her flying into the air, over the guardrail and 100 feet down an embankment.

The 15-year-old girl, who had moved with her family to Great Falls from Korea just two weeks earlier, was walking along the road. She died at about midnight of blunt force trauma, skull contusions and other injuries.

Choking back tears, Wagner apologized to Naeun's family and insisted she never knew her car had struck a person.

But she had no answer for Judge James Kulp as to why she was swerving on the road miles before she struck Naeun.

"I did not realize why I was swerving like that. I don't know," she said.

The prosecutor had asked Judge Kulp to impose a sentence of "several years" because of Wagner's "very erratic driving," her "disregard for the safety of others" and "selfishly" failing to stop and help Naeun.

During his emotional testimony, Young-ki Yoon, Naeun's father, implored the judge to give Wagner five years in prison.

After the hearing, Mr. Yoon said Wagner did not completely own up to her responsibility for the death of Naeun.

"I don't think her conscience was there for her to admit her guilt, and I wish her conscience would make her," he said through a translator. "Because of Jane Wagner's attitude and that she's not true to her conscience, she should be punished."

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh, who was not surprised by Judge Kulp's sentence, said the jail term was in line with other felony hit-and-run cases throughout Virginia.

"But it leaves an empty feeling, especially when you watch a family suffer for so long," he said. "There's no joy in it."

The Yoon family, which will file a civil lawsuit against Wagner in the next two weeks, has complained that prosecutors should have filed more serious charges.

The investigation was handicapped because authorities have no power to force witnesses to testify in Virginia, Mr. Morrogh said.

Wagner's driving before the crash indicated she had been drinking, sources familiar with the case said. But witnesses who saw Wagner that evening refused to cooperate.

"We need to interview witnesses and find out what they know," Mr. Morrogh said.

Unlike in federal court, grand juries in Virginia cannot force witnesses to testify. A bill pending before the Virginia legislature would give grand juries subpoena power, enabling them to punish witnesses who don't cooperate.

"I wish that bill passes so we can have more efficient investigations, especially when people … aren't cooperative," he said. "It's a tool that's long overdue for prosecutors."

Prosecutors can file a more serious charge against Wagner if incriminating evidence that she was drinking, for example surfaces, Mr. Morrogh said.

That's one intention of the Yoons' civil suit against Wagner.

Subpoenas for the lawsuit will force witnesses to testify about Wagner's whereabouts and actions before the incident, which could yield more incriminating evidence, a private investigator for the Yoons told The Washington Times.

Mr. Yoon may increase the $10,000 reward for information leading to more serious charges against Wagner, said his attorney, Michael Choi.

The case has left a tragic wake for all those involved.

Mr. Yoon moved his family from Korea to the United States just two weeks before Naeun's death. He wanted to give all three of his children a better education, especially Naeun, who excelled in music and drawing.

Naeun and her father were especially close. They woke each morning at 6 a.m. to read the Bible together and then exercise as a family. In 1996, they traveled to the United States to visit several elite colleges in the Northeast.

On the night Naeun was killed, she was on her way home with her mother and brother after buying a dress to wear the next day for an art festival at Langley High School, where she had enrolled as a freshman.

Naeun's death has left an emptiness in the Yoon home, her parents testified.

"Even now, my wife wakes up crying and wants to go where Naeun is now. I feel the same way," Mr. Yoon said through a translator. "Naeun was such a joy to my life. I don't know what to do now that's she's not here anymore."

Mrs. Yoon told the court, "I just feel my life has such a void, and it doesn't make sense anymore."

The Yoons said they have had to lie about Naeun to her grandmother, claiming the teen is at school or with friends when she calls from Korea. They fear the grandmother would die if she found out Naeun was killed.

Wagner left the courthouse today knowing that after she gives birth to her first child in January, she must report to the Fairfax County jail in March. If she qualifies, she can serve her sentence in a work-release program, where she works during the day and stays in jail at night and on weekends.

As a convicted felon, Wagner likely will never practice law again. The bar associations in Virginia, Maryland and the District are moving to remove her law license, Wagner's attorney said yesterday.

Wagner, according to testimony from friends and colleagues yesterday, is truthful, honest, caring and hard working, and would never abandon someone she had accidentally harmed.

She was raised by a family "that instilled in her a really strong moral compass that I think has guided her throughout her life," said Jennifer Collins, a friend of Wagner's since they were 12 years old.

"She would never leave somebody in distress if she felt she had caused it," Miss Collins said.

The Yoon family, however, didn't believe a bit of that.

If Wagner was so nice and knows the law so well, Mr. Yoon asked, "how could she have such indecent behavior? She let my daughter die."

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