Formal sentencing will be held later this month for a 25-year-old Isom man who was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in connection with a fatal car wreck here last November.
A Letcher Circuit Court jury recommended at the end of a four-day trial last week that Jonathan Anderson be sentenced to 20 years in prison 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 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.
Anderson admitted during testimony that he drank eight beers and one shot of whiskey before the wreck, but told jurors he did not have a drinking problem. He said he walked away from the scene of the accident after seeing Mrs. Whitaker’s husband, Mitchum Whitaker “hollering and yelling” and appearing to be “very scared.”
Anderson told jurors that at the time of the wreck he had worked the previous six days as an underground coal miner for Black Mountain Resources at Partridge, where he had been employed for about a month. He said he had inherited the 1991 truck from his late grandfather and had planned to get the truck legally tagged and insured.
Anderson said he had worked the previous night and slept until about 12:30 p.m. on November 21. He said that upon awakening, he ate a sandwich his mother made for him, took a shower and drove to Isom, where he stopped to talk with former co-workers at Breeding’s Heavy Haulers.
Anderson said he then went to the Whitesburg VFW Club to watch the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the 2010 season as a guest with a friend. Anderson told the jury he hadn’t planned on drinking alcohol but ended up having the beer and whiskey anyway.
“I wasn’t an alcoholic,” said Anderson. “I didn’t drink every day.”
He said that after the race ended, he and his friend played about four games of pool before he decided to head home to his mother’s house without asking anyone to drive him.
“That was probably one of the biggest mistakes I made,” he said.
As Anderson was driving on the bypass, he came upon the Toyota being driven by Mrs. Whitaker and a Buick automobile her husband was driving. The couple had planned to leave one of the vehicles in the parking lot of the Letcher County Extension Office, located on a hill above the bypass, so their son could drive it to their home at Roxana after he returned from a 4-H Club trip.
Anderson said he remembered passing a car gradually on the Whitesburg bypass, but that he wasn’t speeding.
“I never drove that truck fast,” he said. “Before I could realize, there were two cars stopped in front of me. I hit my brakes and swerved the wheel as hard as I could. The accident happened.”
Anderson told the jury his head hit the windshield of the truck “pretty hard” and that it “is hard for me to remember anything else from that point.”
Asked by Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II why he didn’t see the Whitakers’ cars stopping to make a turn off the bypass onto Stone Avenue, Anderson said he was “looking in my mirror to see where the lady was (that) I was passing.”
Anderson said he remembers getting out of his truck and seeing how badly damaged the Whitakers’ cars were.
“I just saw Mitch (Whitaker) standing there,” Anderson said while also admitting he left the accident scene and hid in tall weeds behind a guardrail. “He was hollering and yelling. He was very scared himself. I was scared to go around any of the vehicles.”
Anderson, who had a previous conviction of driving under the influence, told the jury he feels terrible about the wreck.
“I wish that nothing like that would never happen,” said Anderson. “I wish I could change that.”
Jurors deliberated evidence presented during the trial for more than five hours before finding Anderson guilty of seconddegree manslaughter and the other charges. He was being tried on a charge of wanton murder.
The jury deliberated another three hours before recommending that Anderson serve 10 years for second degree manslaughter and five years for each of the criminal mischief charges and for leaving the scene of the accident. The jury asked that the sentence be served concurrently in part and consecutively in part for a total of 20 years. He would be eligible for parole in 3-1/2 years.
Letcher Circuit Judge Sam Wright will act on the jury’s recommendation at a hearing he has set for September 26 at 9 a.m.