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Firm brings to close a long pending Vehicular Homicide case

In November of 2004, a young man was driving from Cobb County, Georgia, to a worksite in South Carolina. He was driving his employer's box truck.  Some hours earlier, he had consumed some alcohol.  As he neared the South Carolina line, he and a transfer truck driver had traded positions on the highway several times, depending on the road grade and which vehicle could go faster than the other.  Near the bridge at Lake Hartwell, the two vehicles made contact with one another and the transfer truck went into and through the guardrail on the left side of the highway, traveled along the median and into Lake Hartwell where the front of the truck struck part of the bridge structure with the cab submerged in the water. The driver was found still in his seat belt behind the wheel by a dive team several hours later.  The box truck rolled over onto its side and slid along the bridge.

At the time of the crash, a number of 911 calls were received reporting the wreck and alleging that the box truck driver had been driving erratically by weaving in and out of his lane.  Drivers who stopped at the scene reported that the box truck driver emerged from his vehicle and was loud, cursing and angry.

As emergency personnel arrived on the scene, a consensus arose that the box truck driver had been at fault in the wreck.  The surviving driver was taken to the hospital and a trooper was sent to the magistrate office to obtain a search warrant for his blood for testing.  This was granted and blood was drawn.

Later testing showed a blood alcohol content of 0.07 grams percent, less than the legal limit for a driver of a standard vehicle, but over the limit for the driver of a commercial vehicle, which is 0.04 grams percent.  The employer's box truck did not have any DOT numbers on it indicating its status as a commercial vehicle.

The State Patrol's  reconstruction team was called to the scene and worked up the wreck.  It concluded that the box truck driver was at fault, that his smaller vehicle had forced the much larger transfer truck from the road.

The driver made bond and hired counsel.  First counsel ended up having the client come and enter a plea which the client reported feeling compelled to enter, although the court found the plea to be voluntary.  At that time, the client went missing for a period of time.  He was then arrested and held on a probation warrant for another county.  That probation was revoked, and he served approximately two-and-a-half years for that revocation.

During this time, Hart County did not bring him back for trial.  After he maxed out his revocation, he was brought back to Hart County and his case was again on the trial calendar.  He was required to max out his revocation sentence because his bond had been revoked in Hart County and efforts to obtain a new bond were declined because of the earlier failure to respond to court notices.  After he was returned to Hart County, Sean A. Black was hired to represented him.

Discovery was obtained and an extensive investigation to obtain all documentation related to the wreck was performed.  An accident reconstruction expert, Dwayne Canupp, was hired to make a new evaluation of the evidence in the case.

It was determined that the original investigation had some notable deficiencies.  Reputed scale drawings were determined not to be to scale.  For instance, the lane markings were only surveyed for a short distance before the wreck scene and a short distance after the wreck scene and were only extrapolated for the intervening distance.  Photographic evidence was not obtained of the road markings which the troopers identified as the initial point of impact.  Road markings were misinterpreted.  There was a failure to account for certain mechanical evidence which indicated that the box truck's rear axle had been struck and compromised.

A written report was prepared and disclosed to the State.

The case was specially set for trial on December 17, 2012.  While waiting for trial, the client served approximately four-and-one-half years in custody.  On the eve of trial, an offer was made to close the case with the client not admitting fault in the wreck but accepting a sentence which would allow him to be released from jail after six months and serving ten years of probation.

If the client proceeded to trial, he faced a sentencing range of three to fifteen years in prison.  The average incarceration sentence for a first degree vehicular homicide case is 8.8 years in the state of Georgia.  The client entered his plea under the auspices of North Carolina vs. Alford, maintaining his innocence of the charge.  By doing so, he eliminated the risk of receiving a greater sentence if he were convicted at trial.

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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