Sometimes the circumstances of a vehicle accident mean that its hard to plead a not guilty, but a plea bargain can help to reduce the potential sentence and raise the hope of a more normal life sooner rather than later.
This is what has happened to a Panama City trucker who has just been sentenced to jail for more than nine years for an accident in which his semi truck smashed into the back of a jeep killing one of the three occupants and seriously injuring the other two.
44 year old Dennis Fuller was driving his truck along U.S. 98 to the west of Mexico Beach in April 2012 when he crashed into the back of the eastbound jeep. He pleaded no contest to vehicular homicide, one of three charges originally leveled at the trucker, but the two additional charges of DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury were dropped.
The one charge that Fuller pleaded to meant that he ended up with a jail term of nine years and three months and his commercial driver license will be revoked for a further three years after he is released.
It appears that Fuller would have been unlikely to be able to fight the vehicular homicide charge as there were sufficient witnesses to testify that his driving was seriously erratic in the time period leading up to the crash. According to the prosecutor, Bob Sombathy, Fuller’s driving was “very dangerous”. He was reported to be weaving in and out of the lanes of traffic on the highway at high speed overtaking other vehicles recklessly before he crashed into the jeep. The man who was killed, Chris Herdzinsky, was in the back seat of the jeep and was trapped when the truck hit the vehicle he was in. His two companions, Dana Becker and Jadwiga Stojkowski, were both in the front of the jeep which luckily saved their lives, although they were still taken to hospital with serious injuries as a result of the crash.
When Fuller’s blood was tested for alcohol or drugs, there was an amount of metamphetamine and marijuana allegedly discovered. Both of these substances can theoretically affect a driver’s ability to concentrate safely if they are above a certain threshold. Both substances are also controlled drugs and could have resulted in Fuller being charged with DUI as well as manslaughter and seriously bodily injury.
According to Fuller’s defense attorney, he was able to raise doubts about the level of drugs in Fuller’s bloodstream and the ability of the drugs at the concentration found to have had any definite effect on Fuller’s driving. The attorney, Waylon Graham, said that if the two charges had been sustained that the trucker would have got a much longer sentence and most likely would not have been able to retrieve his driving license at all after being released from his jail term. Graham said that the trucker will still be of working age when he is released so there is still a chance that he can regain a normal life.
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