William Cross was just the sort of young man Carver High baseball coach David Pollard would have tried to mentor, witnesses said.
Instead the 23-year-old who never made it through high school is going to prison for taking Pollard’s life in a fatal crash on April 18, 2016, when Cross was fleeing from Columbus police in a stolen car.
After tearful testimony Monday from multiple witnesses, Superior Court Judge Arthur Smith III accepted a guilty plea and sentenced Cross to serve 25 years on charges of homicide by vehicle, auto theft, hit and run, fleeing from police and obstructing officers.
“It is an absolutely senseless tragedy that occurred,” the judge told Cross, noting Columbus had lost an “outstanding educator and community leader” because of Cross’ “series of mistakes” that included stealing a car, leading police on a chase, running a red light and then running away from the crash scene at Buena Vista Road and Morris Road.
Cross was 19 at the time, and had no criminal history. Friends and family described him as quiet and unassuming. When he apologized to Pollard’s family in court, telling them he’d live with the guilt for the rest of his life, only those close by could hear him.
Said Cross’ mother, Tamika Holt: “He was a good child. He was raised right. I brought him up in the church.”
School district records showed Cross went to three different high schools in three years, attending Carver from 2012 to 2014, then Spencer for a month in 2014, then Hardaway through the spring of 2015.
In court Monday, Cross told Smith he made it through his sophomore year.
Pollard’s sister, Kimberley Render, said her brother tried to guide students like Cross. “Many say you are the type of student that he was working so hard to help,” she told Cross during the sentencing hearing.
Anson Hundley, a Carver coach who was longtime friends with Pollard, told Cross: “You really would have liked Coach Pollard. He would have helped you.”
Pollard’s father, Terry Render, said he had no hatred for Cross. “My heart was broken on that day you took my son,” he said. “I don’t hate you. I hate what happened, but I don’t hate you.”
Cross can make up for the loss that he has caused, the father said: “Add to this world. Add to the community. That’s the only way you will pay David back.”
Pollard was out buying school supplies the day he died, said Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus, who believes the coach was purchasing chalk.
It was around 1 p.m. when Pollard proceeded through a green light on Morris Road at Buena Vista Road, trying to turn left. That’s where his Chevy Impala was T-boned on the driver’s side by a westbound 2007 Audi A8.
Pollard, 36, died at the scene from extensive trauma.
Cross got out and ran, fleeing through the parking lot of a Circle K store at 1030 Buena Vista Road.
As he fled, he shed a red jacket with a distinctive design, and it held crucial evidence: a hotel room key card, marked only with a Domino’s pizza ad.
At first investigators had no idea who stole the Audi from a home in the 1800 block of Somerset Avenue, where neighbors saw the thief take the car, followed it, took a picture of the driver and called police.
They followed the car on Interstate 185 to Buena Vista Road, where Officer Walter Haywood saw the Audi and chased it, with Cross reaching speeds of almost 80 mph through the heavy lunchtime traffic. Haywood decided the road was too congested to continue the pursuit, and broke off.
Then Officer Isaac Neal saw the Audi going west on Buena Vista Road, and made a U-turn to follow it, right before the fatal crash. When Cross ran, Neal started to follow, but turned back when he heard witnesses calling for help at the crash site.
Police found the red jacket with the room key card inside it, but not knowing which hotel the key card came from, they had to go from one to another checking, until they found it matched Room 22 at Value Place, 1801 Victory Drive, which Cross’ mother had rented.
Police got a search warrant and arrested Cross on May 2, 2016.
Afterward investigators procured surveillance video tracking Cross in his red jacket as he walked from Value Place to Somerset Avenue to steal the Audi, to which he apparently had a key the owner thought was lost.
Police also found saliva on the Audi’s air bag, and DNA tests matched it to Cross, Lambertus said.
Asking Judge Smith to give Cross 10 to 15 years in prison, defense attorney William Kendrick said Cross remembered Pollard from his time at Carver, and remembered seeing Pollard’s face right before the car crash.
Cross broke down when Kendrick first met with him at the jail, the attorney said.
“He broke. He broke, judge,” the attorney said, recalling that tears streamed from Cross’ eyes as Cross said, “I see Coach’s face in my mind every day. I can’t take it back.”
Kendrick said Cross never asked about going to trial or developing a defense strategy, only how to deal with the weight of the guilt. “He can’t undo what he did,” the attorney said.
“I know nobody woke up on April 18 and intended to kill David, but intentions don’t absolve responsibility,” said Adrienne Pollard, the coach’s widow, who added she was so distraught after the fatal crash that she feared she couldn’t be a good mother to their daughter, who was 9 at the time.
Said Sandra Render, Pollard’s mother: “When he was born, it was one of the best days of my life, and when he was taken, it was the worst.”
Initially charged also with felony murder, Cross would have faced life in prison if convicted at trial. Lambertus chose to drop that charge when Cross agreed to plead guilty, and instead recommended Smith sentence Cross to serve 25 years.
Though others in the family agreed to that, Pollard’s mother said she did not.
“I don’t want him to ever see freedom again,” she said of Cross. “My son’s not seeing freedom. He’s in his grave.”