Robbie Stone received the maximum sentence Thursday of 12 months in jail for reckless driving in a 2010 crash that resulted in the deaths of two teenagers.
An Effingham County jury found Stone guilty last Friday of reckless driving, a misdemeanor, but not guilty of felony charges of vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle. Stone lost control of a 2000 Chevrolet Tracker on Stillwell-Clyo Road and it flipped several times, resulting in the deaths of Whitney Newman and Neil Morgan and serious injuries to Stone and the other three passengers.
Superior Court Judge John R. Turner sentenced Stone after Morgan’s parents, Darrell Morgan and Melissa Hall, addressed the court. No one from Newman’s family spoke prior to the sentencing.
Morgan called the deadly crash an accident and said he has "no ill will toward Robbie," but criticized Stone for not taking responsibility for the wreck and accused him of lying on the witness stand.
"I originally thought I would be here testifying for Robbie. I thought he would take responsibility," Morgan said. "I was proven wrong."
Hall, whose SUV Stone was driving, chastised him for being irresponsible with a vehicle that did not belong to him and in the process taking two lives and injuring other passengers. She asked the court for Stone to receive the maximum sentence.
"For him not to show any responsibility, my words to him are ‘a liar’ and ‘a coward,’" Hall said.
Hall then spoke directly to Stone and said, "As far as I’m concerned, I don’t ever want to look at you again."
Stone testified during the trial he lost control of the SUV in the early hours of June 27, 2010, because Morgan was intoxicated and distracting him. He claimed Morgan’s behavior in the passenger seat "got out of hand" to the point that Morgan dangled out of the window, and Stone began swerving as he reached to pull Morgan back into the vehicle.
Stone said Neil Morgan "had been drinking all day" and that his father had bought the beer for him. Darrell Morgan denied both allegations.
"He portrayed my son Neil as a reckless drunkard," Morgan said. "That’s the definition of a liar."
Darrell Morgan said Stone’s "lies were numerous" on the witness stand. The elder Morgan choked up as he spoke of his son.
"He loved Robbie," Morgan said. "And I’m sure he was looking down as Robbie told those lies on him."
Stone’s attorney Michael Classens asked for leniency in sentencing. He said the circumstances of the wreck and the evidence presented in the case did not warrant imprisonment for Stone.
"Mr. Stone too is a victim," Classens said, "not only because of the injuries he suffered, but because two of his friends are dead. He will always live with the memories of what happened on June 27, 2010."
Assistant District Attorney Brian Deal contended the maximum sentence would be "the only just sentence in this case," saying Stone’s reckless driving could not be separated from the tragic events that resulted. Judge Turner concurred with the state’s recommendation.
Afterward, Classens said, "I’m disappointed. I can’t say I’m shocked" that his client received the maximum 12 months for reckless driving.
However, he tempered that disappointment with the reality that Stone was found not guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of serious injury by vehicle. Each count carried a maximum of 15 years in jail.
"Certainly when you represent someone who faces up to 75 years in jail and the ultimate result is 12 months, it’s very hard to be unhappy with that," Classens said.
Classens reiterated a point he made several times during the two-day trial, that the crash was simply a terrible accident. He noted that even Neil Morgan’s father called it an accident.
"In an accident, by definition, there is no blame," Classens said. "It wasn’t Robbie Stone’s fault. But for the actions of Neil Morgan, we wouldn’t be here."