Crime

Man pleads guilty in 'horrific' high-speed DUI crash

TIM CHITWOOD

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

Christopher Turner in 2013 blamed the other motorist for his drunk-driving wreck that killed a passenger in the car he crashed into at 95 mph.

It was the other driver’s fault, an angry Turner told police, because she pulled out in front of him on Columbus’ Buena Vista Road.

The other driver was Jasmine Pride, who told officers she was turning east while leaving the McDonald’s restaurant at 4121 Buena Vista Road about 3:45 a.m. when she saw Turner’s westbound Volkswagen Jetta coming.

Turner’s car was two or three blocks away, close to the Zaxby’s restaurant at 4424 Buena Vista Road, so Pride thought she had time to pull out.

She didn’t: The front of Turner’s Jetta smashed into the left, rear passenger’s side of Pride’s Kia Optima — right where 26-year-old Shavonna Johnson was sitting.

The impact hurled Johnson out of the car and onto the street. She had massive internal injuries and a broken leg. Medics fought to keep her alive until they could get her to the Midtown Medical Center, where she died at 8:18 a.m. Dec. 28.

In court Friday to plead guilty to first-degree vehicular homicide, Turner apologized to Johnson’s family, and said he hoped one day to have a productive life when he gets out of prison.

“I was just foolish and reckless throughout this whole situation,” he said.

His courtroom contrition was a stark contrast to his conduct the night of the crash, testified police Cpl. Raymond Mills, who investigated the wreck.

“He stated that he hadn’t killed her, that they had killed themselves by pulling out in front of him,” Mills told Judge Ron Mullins.

Turner that night estimated his speed at 60 mph, but the impact froze the Jetta’s speedometer at around 95, Mills said, adding, “Mr. Turner at that time was obviously impaired.”

News accounts of the collision in 2013 said Turner had been drinking brandy from a Mason jar. Hours afterward, tests showed his blood-alcohol content still was at .10, Mills said.

The wreckage at the scene was shocking, Mills testified: “This was one of the most horrific accidents that I’ve seen, just from the speed involved.”

Turner had been going so fast that after the impact, the Jetta continued traveling west for about 400 feet, finally spinning to a stop near the road’s intersection with North Linden Circle, Mills said. Debris was scattered along the road for at least 150 feet.

Before Turner’s sentencing, a victim’s advocate read messages from Johnson’s family. Stepmother Margaret Johnson wrote that relatives can’t get through a Christmas without thinking of the daughter who died that holiday week.

April Valdez, Shavonna Johnson’s mother, said her daughter was born July 24, 1987, and she is reminded of her loss every July, as well as over the holidays.

“Christmas and the anniversary of her death are unbearable,” wrote the mother, who said she since has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Valdez said she remarried in 2010, but the debilitating grief over her daughter’s 2013 death eventually led to another divorce. “I no longer enjoy life,” she wrote. “I just don’t.”

She concluded the letter with a quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, a sentiment she said was her daughter’s last post to the social media website Instagram:

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”

Before Turner’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Pete Temesgen told the judge the fatal wreck was not the first time Turner was caught driving under the influence — nor was it the last.

On May 23, 2013, police found Turner’s car deep in a tree line off Woodruff Farm Road, where they discovered brandy in a red Solo cup in the vehicle’s console. A test showed Turner’s blood-alcohol content there was .098, Temesgen said.

After he was released on bond for his vehicular homicide charge, Turner got another DUI on April 2, 2015, when his bond was revoked, the prosecutor said.

Turner’s attorney Stacey Jackson said his client had an addiction to alcohol.

Abiding by a plea agreement the attorneys made, Mullins sentenced Turner to serve 13 years in prison. Besides homicide by vehicle and DUI, Turner’s charges included misdemeanor offenses of driving while disqualified and giving police false information.

Recalling Turner’s apology and pledge to live a better life, Mullins told him: “Mr. Turner, I hope your words are real words. Time will tell.”

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