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Prosecution Tries To Make Case For Manslaughter In 2001 Wreck

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After two years of questions, people may finally get the chance to understand why four teens died in a terrible car crash.

Nineteen-year-old Christopher Petersen was at the Wake County Courthouse Monday morning on four charges of involuntary manslaughter. He was arrested Saturday, accused of racing against 18-year-old Bryan Reaves on I-540 near Leesville Road in May 2001.

Reaves, Jamie Brewer, Mike Smith and Matthew Yurcak all died after Reaves lost control of his vehicle at a speed in excess of 100 miles per hour.

More than two years after the crash, how hard will it be for prosecutors to prove their case? WRAL went looking for answers from attorneys on both sides.

Nothing will bring the four teenagers back. But if it was a race that caused four deaths, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said justice must be served by charging Petersen with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

"Racing is a wanton and willful negligence, which rises to the level of criminal negligence," Willoughby said, "not just a mistake like somebody running through a stop sign, drives a little too fast -- but wanton, willful negligence."

The accident happened May 30, 2001. Two cars were headed west on 540 a half-mile west of Leesville Road. One of the cars came across the median and crashed.

The way it happened makes a veteran defense attorney think the prosecution may not have a case.

"They may have been racing," Tommy Manning said. "But there's no evidence that has come to light that shows that the cars ever touched each other, or that Mr. Petersen's car forced this other car off the road or into the median and into oncoming traffic."

Willoughby believes he has a case.

"The behavior of each one of them eggs the other on," Willoughby said. "They seek the competition, to be faster than the other, and this just recognizes what we all know to be true."

Still, Manning says there is a defense.

"There is going to be a gap in the proof between what facts did occur and the crime that the prosecution has selected to charge him with," Manning said.

As the debate rages, the tragedy remains that four families had to bury children.

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