An Effingham County jury found Robbie Stone of reckless driving but not guilty of vehicular homicide.
The jury of seven men and five women took less than two hours to deliberate Friday afternoon after the two-day trial. Stone took the stand as the last defense witness before Judge John R. Turner gave the case to jurors.
Stone lost control of a Chevrolet Tracker he was driving on Stillwell-Clyo Road on June 27, 2010, and he and the five other passengers were ejected as the SUV flipped several times. Whitney Newman died at the scene, and Neil Morgan succumbed days later to his injuries from the crash. Stone and the other three passengers suffered injuries in the accident.
On the witness stand, Stone said he lost control of the SUV because he was distracted by Morgan. He said Morgan, who was in the passenger seat, was misbehaving after “drinking all day.”
Stone and his attorney, Michael Classes, declined comment to the media as they left the courthouse. However, in his closing statement to the jury, Classens reiterated his contention that the fatal wreck was “an accident caused by a number of factors,” including the SUV having tires that were the wrong size and were over-inflated.
Stone was found not guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of serious injury by vehicle and one count of weaving over a roadway. He could have served up to 75 years in prison had he been found guilty on all charges.
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of 12 months in prison. Stone’s sentencing hearing will be held Thursday, and several members of Newman’s and Morgan’s families are expected to attend.
“I hope … when he gets sentenced, it will bring some closure to the victims’ families,” Assistant District Attorney Brian Deal said.
See Tuesday’s Herald for more.