The young woman looked nervous. It was obvious she had messed up and she knew it.
And it wasn’t just because she was standing in front of a Columbus Recorder’s Court judge Friday morning. The 18-year old Columbus State University student made a decision on the afternoon of Feb. 9 that had far-reaching consequences.
While leaving a parking lot on main campus, she backed into one car, then hit a second car in the aftermath. There were at least four witnesses to the wreck.
The girl’s mistake was not hitting the first vehicle, or even the second one. Accidents happen.
She did not stop nor did she check to see how serious the damage was — for the record, it was moderate to one vehicle and slight to another. She then drove away.
The witnesses had pictures, a tag number and she was in a heap of trouble. Instead of an insurance matter, she now had a serious legal matter. She was charged with failure to report an accident.
“This is serious,” Judge Michael Joyner told the girl Friday morning.
He sounded more like a dad than a judge. With the girl’s father, an Army officer, standing beside her, Joyner said, “I am probably not saying anything to you that your father already hasn’t.”
If the girl had just stopped and put a note on each vehicle with her contact information, this matter would have been over.
Joyner asked her multiple times why she didn’t do that. The girl didn’t have a good answer because she knew she made a mistake and she knew she was caught.
The four witnesses, all CSU students, described the situation exactly the same. CSU police officer John Teasley did, as well.
There was no escaping this one.
As the facts were obvious and a punishment necessary, Joyner took a road some didn’t see coming. The judge got assurances that the insurance company was involved as the damaged vehicles were being fixed.
He then considered a guilty plea on the failure to report charges. The judge told the girl she would lose her license for at least six months.
“Are you prepared to have your father or your mother drive you everywhere?” the judge asked.
It was about this time that Joyner, who was stern through the ordeal, decided to use some creative justice.
He settled on placing the girl on probation, which would allow her to retain her license. He then handed out the most unusual of sentences. Joyner ordered the girl to attend two Recorder’s Court sessions in their entirety and write a report that is to be submitted to him.
Some would say Joyner should have convicted her of failure to report and let whatever happened, happen.
Teasley, the officer who appeared in court, did not second-guess the judge’s decision.
“A lot time, what we do is teaching,” Teasley said. “A lot of our students are young kids and they have never been away from home. They will make mistakes.”
What the girl did was clearly an error in judgment, and she knows it.
“What I did was wrong,” she said after court and talking to a probation officer. “I know I should have stayed.”
This was truly a teachable moment. The judge saw that. The police officer saw that. The witnesses saw that. The girl’s father saw that.
And it’s pretty obvious it was lesson learned the hard way. I can’t wait to read her report.