BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

An Accomack County man has been found guilty of two counts of manslaughter in the vehicular deaths of two Northampton students riding in the back seat of a car he hit on U.S. Route 13 last year.

Joseph Castiglia, 22, of Melfa, also was found guilty by a Northampton County jury of reckless driving.

The verdict was handed down late Thursday. Castiglia was given until 5 p.m. Monday to report to jail. He will be formally sentenced in July.

Castiglia plowed into a car Jan. 28, 2022, waiting for a stopped school bus, killing Dajerilyz “Daje” Ortiz-Lebron, 15, and Nadyanaliz “Nany” Ortiz, 12.

The last words Nayda Ortiz ever heard spoken by either of her two daughters who died were, “It’s going to hit us,” she testified.

Nayda Ortiz had departed her home in Exmore around 7 a.m. Her destination was Kiptopeke Elementary School, where she worked as a tutor for migrant students.

On her way, she had planned to drop off three of her four daughters at Northampton’s middle and high school in Eastville. Her youngest daughter was at home with Ortiz’s then-fiance.

Ortiz testified that her daughter Nayaliz, 13, was in the front passenger seat. In the backseat, Dajerilyz sat on the driver’s side and Nadyanaliz sat on the passenger side. Everyone in the blue 2007 Toyota Yaris was wearing a seatbelt, Ortiz said. Multiple witnesses said the weather was clear.

Deon Rogers testified he was transporting middle and high school students on Northampton County Public Schools Bus 37 that morning and had stopped in the right lane on southbound U.S. Route 13, with his red lights flashing and stop sign deployed.

Rogers had stopped around 7:20 a.m. just south of Bayford Road, near Weirwood, to pick up students from a mobile home park.

He said a black pickup truck, a GMC Sierra, was stopped in the left lane near the rear bumper of the bus, and the Toyota was stopped behind the pickup truck.

Shortly after Rogers had stopped, Bus 16, driven by Harry Gaskins, stopped behind Bus 37 to pick up elementary school students from the same location. Gaskins also turned on his red flashing lights and deployed his stop sign.

Rogers said in his driver’s side mirror he saw a white pickup truck approaching at a steady speed, and it appeared the truck was not going to stop.

The white pickup, a Ford F-250, struck the Toyota, which contacted the GMC, pushing it forward 20 or 30 feet, according to witnesses.

A rear-facing video surveillance camera on Bus 16 captured footage of the GMC and Toyota seconds before the crash and recorded the loud noise of the impact that occurred out-of-frame.

A moment later, the driver of the GMC, Coleman James, who was taking his 3-year-old daughter to daycare in Cheriton, briefly stepped out of his vehicle and saw Castiglia, who was trying to open the driver’s side door of the Toyota.

Ortiz testified that she interacted with Castiglia and asked him, “Do you know how to (expletive) drive?”

James said that Castiglia had told him to call 911. 

James also heard Castiglia ask, “What happened?” and say, “I hate school buses.”

James affirmed he later saw Castiglia sitting outside a nearby gas station, crying.

Edward Leonard, who was an EMS captain at the time of the incident, responded to the scene and saw Nayda Ortiz sitting on the ground; her three children were still in the car.

Leonard said Nayaliz was removed through the driver’s side door and was not seriously injured. 

Dajerilyz was removed using a vehicle extrication tool. She was in serious condition and transported to a Norfolk hospital, where she died two days later. 

Leonard said he checked on Nadyanaliz and pronounced her dead at 7:40 a.m.

Trooper Clinton Brockwell of the Virginia State Police had been dispatched to the scene, and he took both a verbal and a written statement from Castiglia.

According to the statement, Castiglia had seen the school bus, but it was too far away to necessitate him stopping immediately. 

He wrote that he was driving southbound in the left lane of the highway when another vehicle moved into the same lane, in front of him, but he couldn’t stop.

This statement appeared to conflict with the testimony of Nayda Ortiz, who said her vehicle was in the left lane the entire time.

However, Gaskins testified that the video footage from Bus 16 also showed also showed a black Ford Mustang that appeared to be maneuvering to avoid the bus.

Brockwell said Castiglia allowed his phone to be taken to be searched by authorities.

There was no evidence that Castiglia had been using alcohol, marijuana, or narcotics, Brockwell said.

The state trooper affirmed Castiglia had appeared shocked by the crash.

Brockwell arrested Castiglia five days later, on March 3, 2022.

Trooper Cody Corbin said he arrived around one hour after the incident; he had been dispatched to reconstruct the crash.

He noted the GMC had sustained light rear damage, the Ford had heavy front damage, and the Toyota had heavy damage of both the front and rear. 

The Ford truck, a large, high vehicle, was “partially on top of the trunk” of the Toyota, Corbin said.

During their opening statements, both Thornton and defense attorney James Broccoletti reminded jurors that they must be impartial.

The law makes no distinction between a child, a teenager, and an adult, and the jury’s decision must be based not on emotion, but on the law and how it applies to the evidence presented in court, Broccoletti said.

But, he said, “everybody in the courtroom is sad. I think we can all agree on that,” and on the “horrible, tragic circumstance.”

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