Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright followed a jury’s recommendation and sentenced a 25-year-old Isom man to 20 years in prison this week.
Jonathan Anderson, who was tried on a charge of wanton murder, was found guilty earlier this month of second-degree manslaughter for driving drunk and crashing his pickup truck into the rear of a car driven by Gwendolyn Whitaker, who was killed in the wreck. The jury also found Anderson guilty of two counts of first-degree criminal mischief and leaving the scene of an accident.
Evidence produced during the four-day trial showed that Anderson had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 percent — three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent — when he crashed his Ford F-150 pickup into the rear of Whitaker’s Toyota Avalon on the Whitesburg bypass around 9 p.m. last November 21.
Gwendolyn Whitaker and her husband, Mitch Whitaker, were driving separate vehicles — he a Buick and she a Toyota Avalon. The Whitakers had intended to leave one of the cars for their son to drive to their home at Roxana after he returned to Whitesburg from an out-of-town 4-H Club trip.
Sarah Whitaker Watkins read a victim’s impact statement during the sentencing on September 26 and told the court many people have suffered since her mother was killed.
“We are broken without her,” said Watkins. “At times it is almost unbearable.”
Watkins said more than 1,000 people attended her mother’s funeral and members of their church, Premium Baptist Church, also spent time on Thanksgiving with her family. Mrs. Whitaker was a member and a Sunday school teacher at that church.
“My mom had many passions, but the Lord was who she was most passionate about,” said Watkins. “We had her funeral at the church where she always wanted to be.”
Watkins said many organizations were impacted by Mrs. Whitaker’s death including Faith Moves Mountains, a cancer research project funded by the University of Kentucky, where Mrs. Whitaker was employed. Mrs. Whitaker was a long-time site based council member and a scholarship fund was created in her name after her death.
Watkins said her mother’s best friend, Anne Leslie Hissom, was affected as well. Mrs. Whitaker volunteered to serve as a nurse to Hissom’s husband while he battled cancer and was there for Hissom after her husband died.
“She prayed for her with great passion,” said Watkins.
Mrs. Whitaker was part of a Romanian American mission team and traveled to Romania. She had wanted her family to go to Romania with her this year .
Watkins said her family has suffered greatly from the loss of Mrs. Whitaker.
“ My dad has been so sad since my mom died,” said Watkins. “He will still miss her. His heart will stay broken for her.”
Watkins said her brother, Addison, graduated high school without their mother in the audience and her sister, Dorothy, got her driver’s license.
“ Fifteen is too young to not have a mom,” said Watkins.
Mrs. Whitaker’s sister, Tina Allen, also read a victim’s impact statement and said Mrs. Whitaker’s coworkers and friends are still telling her of selfless deeds she did to help people in the community.
Allen described her sister as kind, loving, happy, sincere and religious.
“She was the embodiment of all that was good in this world,” said Allen.
Wright told Anderson, who had a previous conviction of driving under the influence, that he had only had his driver’s license back 10 days at the time of the wreck and he disregarded the law.
“Instead of trying to render aid, you ran across the road and hid in the weeds,” said Wright.
Wright said because of Anderson’s conduct, it is inappropriate for probation to be granted in this case. Anderson will receive 110 days jail credit.