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Billionaire U.S. candy heiress pleads guilty in fatal crash

By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Billionaire candy heiress Jacqueline Badger Mars, who owns a third of the Mars Inc candy company, pleaded guilty on Thursday to misdemeanor reckless driving charges stemming from a fatal accident in Virginia.

Loudoun County General District Court Judge Deborah Welsh ordered Mars, 74, to pay a $2,500 fine and suspended her license for six months, according to online court records.

Mars was driving a Porsche SUV on October 4 when it crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with a minivan in Aldie, Virginia, according to the Sheriff's Office in Loudoun County, on the outskirts of Washington.

A minivan passenger, Irene Ellisor, 86, died at the scene. She was not wearing a seatbelt, police said.

Ashley Blakeslee, driver of the minivan, was eight months pregnant and lost the baby she was carrying. Four other women in the vehicle were briefly hospitalized.

Mars was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash and told a witness at the scene that she had fallen asleep while driving, according to evidence supplied by prosecutors.

"I know I can't go back in time. I can't change what happened," Mars read from a statement during the court hearing provided by her spokesman Kent Jarrell.

"But it's important for this court and the families to know that I will always live with the grief and the loss caused by this tragedy," the statement went on to say.

Mars told the court that she traveled to Texas this week to visit Blakeslee to express her regrets. The group in the minivan was visiting from Texas to attend the wedding of Blakeslee's brother.

Mars had faced a possible sentence of a year in jail. But Blakeslee's father, Arnold Acker, submitted a statement to the court saying he had forgiven Mars and "did not believe that incarceration for Ms Mars would result in any added benefit."

In September, Forbes magazine listed Mars as the 15th-richest American with wealth of $20.5 billion. The world's second-largest candy manufacturer, the Mars company makes products such as M&M candies and Snickers and Milky Way candy bars.

Mars served as food product group president of the McLean, Virginia, company until her retirement in 2001. She remains on the board of directors.

Her philanthropy work earned her the 2012 Foundation for the National Archives' Heritage Award. She also serves on the board of directors of the National Sporting Library and Fine Art Museum.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Gunna Dickson)

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