DA preps cases against two more teens involved in fatal '12 crash

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comApril 14, 2014 

With Clayton Qualls sentenced to nine years in prison for the car wreck that killed his 16-year-old girlfriend, the Muscogee County District Attorney’s office is moving forward with cases against two other teens implicated in the underage drinking death.

Qualls pleaded guilty to first-degree vehicular homicide Friday in Superior Court in the June 2012 death of Hannah Gilmer, 16.

Qualls, Austin Lott and Daniel Hughes Massengale tried to hide their alcohol after the crash as Gilmer struggled to breathe after being thrown from the car, said Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus.

Lott and Massengale each face felony evidence-tampering charges with penalties of one to five years in prison if convicted.

“Their charges are still pending,” Lambertus said. “I have been approaching this case like dominoes. Qualls was the first domino.”

Moments before the fatal crash, Qualls, who was driving Gilmer’s 2006 Scion, was racing along County Line Road, trying to pass vehicles Lott and Massengale were driving, Lambertus said.

One of the teenagers saw the Scion crash, and the two rushed to the scene where they allegedly helped hide beer, Lambertus told the court Friday. Twenty-three minutes passed before anyone called 911 to help Gilmer, Lambertus said.

Qualls, who was 17 and a rising Northside High School senior, was charged with DUI in Harris County less than two weeks before the fatal crash. He has since pleaded guilty to that charge.

“This is the nastiest vehicular homicide case I have seen — from the DUI 11 days earlier to the actions of the defendants at the scene,” Lambertus said.

During his argument before Judge William Rumer on Friday, Lambertus made it clear he believed all three teenagers were responsible for what happened in the wreck’s aftermath. Prior to handing Qualls a 15-year sentence that included nine to serve and six on probation, Rumer cited the previous DUI and the actions at the scene.

Qualls’ defense attorney had been asking for two years to serve and a mandatory state alcohol rehabilitation program. The prosecution was asking for 10 years to serve.

“These boys abandoned Hannah,” Lambertus told the court. “They left her alone on the ground clinging to life. It was a heartless act, a cruel act, a selfish act. They could have at the very least held her hand. They could have stayed with her. And he was her boyfriend.”

The assistant district attorney said his case will focus on what happened on the scene.

Defense attorney Stacey Jackson represents Massengale.

“My client didn’t do anything wrong,” Jackson said. “And we’re not pleading guilty. He did not commit a crime.”

Lott’s attorney, Richard Hagler, declined Monday to discuss details of the case.

“It would be inappropriate,” Hagler said. “We have been waiting for disposition of the other cases. I will sit down with Wesley and my client and see where we go.”

Gilmer’s parents have hired attorney Ben Land to represent them in a possible lawsuit. No suit has been filed, but Land was in the courtroom Friday monitoring the criminal case.

When arrested, Qualls had an altered Georgia driver’s license on him. A 30-pack of beer was purchased earlier the night of June 15 at the Circle K at 7730 Veterans Parkway. A bottle of vodka was bought at the Maple Mart at 8328 Veterans Parkway.

Qualls' defense attorney John Martin told the court Friday that the Circle K computer kicked back the purchase because the license was not valid, but the sale was made anyway.

Said Land: “While Clayton Qualls is responsible for Hannah’s death, we don’t think he is the only one who bears responsibility. There are other responsible parties, including the ones who provided the alcohol despite being presented with what was obviously an altered fake ID.”

Land said that those who sold the beer and vodka need to be held accountable.

“Teenage alcohol use is a big problem, and the stores that sell alcohol should not be contributing to that problem by selling to kids and turning a blind eye to a license that has obviously been altered and belongs to someone else.”

The two-year statute of limitations for the Gilmers to file a suit expires in two months.

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