Reckless driving charged in friend’s death

Published 5:17 am Tuesday, October 19, 2004

By Staff
ST. JOSEPH - Beth Blanchard and Rachel Sverid were best friends.
On Sept. 1 a car driven by Sverid, who turned 17 on Aug. 31, collided with another vehicle on M-63, north of the St. Joseph River.
Blanchard, a passenger in Sverid's automobile, sustained severe head injuries and died five days later.
Three persons in the other vehicle - Dana Valdes, 20; Mary Valdes, 53; and Steve Valdes, 42 - suffered serious injuries requiring hospitalization and surgical intervention.
Investigation by the St. Joseph Police Department indicates Sverid came into possession of the 2004 Pontiac GTO she was driving on her birthday the day before.
She had little or no experience with this particular vehicle and was largely unfamiliar with its operating characteristics, according to Berrien County Prosecutor James A. Cherry.
While northbound on M-63, she lost control of this car. The vehicle went into a partial counter-clockwise spin and entered the southbound lanes where it impacted the southbound car driven by Steve Valdes.
Cherry said "sudden and rapid acceleration" was the likely cause of Sverid's failure to maintain control of her car.
Accident reconstruction revealed Sverid was traveling at 67 mph at the time of impact. The speed limit along that stretch of roadway is 50 mph. Alcohol was not a factor in the crash.
Cherry anticipated that Sverid would voluntarily appear in Berrien County Trial Court and plead no contest to the reckless driving charge.
A no-contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea except it cannot be used to establish negligence in a civil lawsuit.