Sentences with little or no jail time are not rare in vehicular homicide cases, as illustrated by recent sentencings from Chatham and Effingham counties and earlier cases in Bulloch and Candler counties.
Chatham jazz legend
Internationally known Savannah jazz bassist Ben Tucker, 82, died June 4, 2013, when the golf cart he was driving on Hutchinson Island was hit by a car driven by Robert William Martin, 54, of Spicewood, Texas.
Prosecutors charged Martin with felony vehicular homicide. At first he said that he had been slowing down to 50 mph, but evidence that Savannah-Chatham police investigators collected from the his Chrysler 300 showed it was traveling at more than 90 mph just 2.2 seconds before the collision, Savannah news media reported.
However, Grand Prize of America Avenue, where the deadly crash occurred, is designed like a racecourse and had been used for a race the day before, according to reported testimony. There was also police testimony that Tucker, if he had lived, would have been charged with failure to yield and operating a golf cart on a roadway.
Without first getting a deal from prosecutors, Martin entered a guilty plea to the felony charge. At a hearing July 24, Superior Court Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley sentenced Martin to five years probation, with his record subject to being cleared under the First Offender Act when he completes the sentence.
State law prescribes a sentence of three to 15 years for felony vehicular homicide, but the maximum for a misdemeanor vehicular homicide count is one year plus a fine.
A Sept. 7, 2014, highway crash in Effingham County prompted three misdemeanor vehicular homicide counts against Rachel Conley, then 17. The charges were prosecuted in Effingham County State Court instead of a Superior Court where a felony case would likely have been heard.
Conley had been driving a Ford Taurus on two-lane Augusta Road outside Rincon when she steered into the northbound lane to pass a pickup truck driven by another Effingham County teenager, Karlie Miles.
To avoid an approaching truck pulling a trailer, Conley tried to swerve back into the southbound lane, and sideswiped Miles’ truck. This sent Miles’ vehicle into the path of a Chevrolet Traverse driven by Megan Kessler, 30, of Rincon, the Georgia State Patrol reported.
Kessler, a special education teacher at Effingham County High School, and Marlys Strempke, Kessler’s mother, died at the scene. Miles died three days later.
Conley entered an Alford plea, the Effingham Herald reported. This is a guilty plea that a defendant enters without making an actual admission of guilt.
Effingham County State Court Judge Ronnie Thompson sentenced Conley Aug. 11 to a total of 24 months probation. This included 12 months on the second count consecutive to 12 months on the first count. Technically, there was also a 12 month sentence on the third count, but to be served at the same time as the first.
Texting death in Bulloch
In what was probably Bulloch County’s first felony case resulting from texting while driving, Amanda Jo Parker, now 23, of Bonaire, entered a negotiated guilty plea in Bulloch County Superior Court in October 2013.
The wreck occurred Dec. 11, 2011, in mile 133 of the eastbound side of Interstate 16, according to documents at the court clerk’s office. Driving a Toyota 4x4, Parker swerved out of her lane and struck another vehicle, causing the death of Cordarryl Sharrod Talbert, according to court documents.
Documents show that Parker was first charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide. But a May 7, 2013 grand jury indictment sent the case to Superior Court with a felony vehicular homicide count. A reckless driving count supported the homicide charge’s felony status, and the indictment also charged Parker with weaving over the road and improper use of a telecommunications device while driving.
With Parker pleading guilty to the four charges, Superior Court Judge F. Gates Peed sentenced her to 10 years, mostly probation. She was to serve 30 days jail time. Peed also prescribed a sentence of 150-180 days in a detention center, but suspended this part of the sentence. Parker was to pay fines and fees totaling $2,025 and to speak to two groups per year for four year about the dangers of using a cellphone while driving.
However, the documents also states that the sentence, including probation, can be ended after five years if she meets all the conditions. She also has first offender status.
Case in Candler
A 2008 indictment in Candler County charged Sylvette Jones Artis, then 55, of Register, with felony vehicular homicide for the Dec. 2, 2006, death of Lawan Faircloth, 36. The indictment alleged that Artis drove under the influence of benzodiazepam, a prescription drug. The crash occurred at the intersection of Rosemary Church Road and the Metter-Portal Highway.
Lovett Bennett, who also represented Sean Jackson Brannen in his vehicular homicide case this year, was Artis’ defense attorney. But this was a different judicial circuit.
Artis entered a negotiated guilty plea to the lesser charge of second degree, or misdemeanor, vehicular homicide in April 2009 and was sentenced by Candler County Superior Court Judge Robert S. Reeves to 12 months probation and a $1,000 fine.