Man who caused 2010 fatal wreck released on parole

benw@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 10, 2013 

Chad Robert Starling, a Columbus man who pleaded guilty last year to racing on Mobley Road and causing the May 2010 death of 17-year-old Joseph Grant Laverty, was released from prison last month after serving more than two years of an eight-year prison sentence, court officials said Wednesday.

Robert Wadkins, the public defender for Starling in Muscogee County Superior Court when he pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and other charges in January 2012, said he wasn't notified of the release but said there was nothing unusual about it.

Starling agreed to a 15-year prison sentence, with eight years to serve in state prison and seven on probation. Starling, 22, was eligible for parole after serving more than 30 months or nearly a third of his sentence because he was given credit for being held 14 months in the Muscogee County Jail before the guilty plea.

"This is nothing out of the ordinary," Wadkins said. "There is not one single thing about this that is out of kilter."

With two other teens charged in connection with the fatal accident, including one with ties to a city official, special prosecutor Todd Hayes of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia handled the case instead of the district attorney's office. Hayes said he couldn't comment on the case because he didn't have all the facts on Starling.

"As far as I know, that case is still being reviewed for exactly what happened with the parole issue," Hayes said. "I don't have any comment at this point because I don't have all the facts."

Debby Copeland, chief parole officer in Columbus, said Starling was released June 12 and he will be under supervision until May 2018 to complete his probation.

Starling, who was kicked out of Northside High School in the 11th grade, was driving a 2000 Honda Civic with Laverty in the back seat when he steered the car at a high speed behind another car driven by Megan Margarum, 19. As he attempted to pass Margarum's westbound vehicle on the two-lane road just before 9 p.m., Starling saw an eastbound Chevy Tahoe in oncoming traffic. The Tahoe was driven by Steven Cody Hodge, also 19.

Starling tried to regain control of his vehicle by pulling back behind Margarum, but the vehicle spun out of control. It spun 360 degrees back into the path of Hodge's SUV, colliding with the vehicle. Laverty had severe head injuries and died two days later.

Driving the vehicle for less than a month, Starling was behind the wheel with a suspended driver's license and no insurance. The car also wasn't registered properly.

"I'd do anything to change what happened that night," Starling told the court at sentencing. "I'm sorry for the reckless driving. I know I shouldn't have been driving, and if I wasn't, the incident would've never happened."

Margarum pleaded guilty to reckless driving, speeding and obstruction of a police officer. Hodge pleaded guilty to two DUIs, including one less than a year after the fatal crash.

Laverty's parents couldn't be reached for comment.

Wadkins said Starling still must stay free of serious offenses while on probation.

"A DUI or something like that, there is a strong possibility he might have to go back and serve a great deal of the rest of his sentence -- if not all of it. Anything that is other than like a parking ticket or something," he said.

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