ROCKBRIDGE COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — After months of pauses due to the coronavirus pandemic, the trial of a Roanoke man charged in connection with a deadly explosion at a Rockbridge County gas station is underway.
As WFXR News previously reported, an explosion at South River Market on May 10, 2019 killed four people, including the owner of the market, Roger Lee Roberts; two employees, Kevin Tate Roberts and Samantha Gail Lewis; and a patron, Paul Dewayne Ruley.
Phillip Ray Westmoreland, the driver of the fuel delivery truck, was arrested on March 19, 2021 and charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the incident, according to Rockbridge County court records.
On Monday, Aug. 15 — more than three years after the explosion — jury selection began in Westmoreland’s trial, lasting nearly the entire day.
Court records show that Westmoreland is pleading not guilty in his trial, which is scheduled to proceed through Sept. 2.
WFXR News was in the courtroom at Rockbridge Circuit Court on Monday, during which time Judge Christopher Russell said nearly 100 potential jurors were summoned. At the end of the day, the jury was narrowed down to 14 people.
Westmoreland’s defense attorney, Rob Dean, told jurors one thing he would be focusing on during the trial is “above ground storage tanks” in relation to the explosion at South River Market, giving a possible glimpse into his team’s strategy in court.
Meanwhile, Russell says there are plenty of witnesses in this trial, which will proceed with opening statements at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16.