Imagine an accident, a fatal and horrific crash, caused by a man who had spent the earlier part of the night partying. One might expect DUI criminal charges and alcohol-related charges to follow. However, that isn't always the case. A vehicular manslaughter case serves as a reminder that there are multiple avenues for justice, a lesson that applies to civil injury lawsuits as well as criminal charges. It is a lesson our Panama City personal injury attorney knows well, and it is a point that is crucial to his work advocating for injured victims.
A recent News Herald report (note: additional details courtesy of WJHG) marked the likely end to a criminal case that has been pending since an October 2011 crash; an end that involved a Bay County jury taking a mere hour to convict the defendant of vehicular manslaughter. On October 22, 2011 at 4 A.M., Tarrance Harrell was (per the charges) behind the wheel of a vehicle travelling more than 90mph down U.S. Business 98. He accelerated to get through the intersection with N. Cove Boulevard as the light turned red. Harrell swerved to avoid crashing with a white truck and then lost control, sliding and smashing into a utility pole. The force of the impact was great enough to split Harrell's vehicle in half. Front-seat passenger Danielle Guilford, a 23-year-old mother of two, died instantly.
Earlier in the night, Harrell, Guilford, and the two other passengers had been partying at Panama City's Club DejaVu. Initially, the charges included DUI manslaughter; however, that charge was dropped because Harrell's blood-alcohol content of .059 fell below the legal limit. Defense counsel did not concede that Harrell was the driver, noting that Harrell's cousin Miah Hill had initially claimed to have been behind the wheel. Hill later testified that she had been trying to protect Harrell because he was on probation for weapons and drug charges. At the scene, Harrell had admitted to being the driver, claiming an attack on conscience after seeing police testing the intoxicated Hill's blood-alcohol content.
On Friday, a jury found Harrell guilty of vehicular homicide and also of violating his probation. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison and then 15 years on probation.
Although the news coverage focuses on criminal, not civil, matters, there's an important reminder here for civil plaintiffs. The fact that a driver's BAC was below the limit does not mean that driver is wholly innocent or that there are no claims that the driver's victims can bring. Regardless of BAC and regardless of whether a driver was criminally convicted for DUI, a crash that was the fault of the drinking driver can be the subject of a civil case seeking damages for the injured victims.
If you have been injured in a car accident in Bay County or the surrounding regions, call our firm to discuss your legal rights. While the criminal justice system is an important part of our society and helps hold drivers responsible for their acts, it is the civil system that truly focuses on the victim. You deserve civil representation. Our Panama City civil accident lawyer offers a free consultation to all potential clients. Most cases are handled on a contingent fee basis, so there are no fees unless you recover compensation for your injuries.