Vehicular Homicide in Atlanta & Georgia
By: William C. Head, Criminal Defense Attorney Atlanta
My law partner and Criminal Defense Lawyer Atlanta Larry Kohn received a phone call from another lawyer in Georgia who told him that he had a criminal case for a lady in DeKalb County Superior Court that was beyond his level of expertise. The felony vehicular homicide case involved the death of three children on Memorial Drive in DeKalb County in a multi-vehicle car crash.
National and local news media outlets, including USA Today, were reporting that two drivers were street racing and caused a fatality accident. The collision ended with three children being killed in the impact.
The community was in an uproar and two people were arrested and charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide GA. No alcohol or drugs were suspected by DeKalb County police, but reckless driving Georgia is a predicate offense that can support first degree vehicular homicide charges, which is a serious felony offense.This Criminal Case Goes to Trial in DeKalb County Superior Court
When our law firm received the call, the woman who was charged with the crime had already been released from DeKalb County jail. Cory Yager and Larry Kohn met with the young woman and her family. Mr. Kohn and Mr. Yager told them that (based on our law firm’s extensive experience with cases involving felony vehicular homicide in Georgia) this was a criminal case that would have to be fought at jury trial unless she was willing to accept a guilty plea and lengthy state prison sentence.
The State was not going to reduce or dismiss a case where three children had been killed in such a horrific manner. One of the children had been thrown from the vehicle and was found 30 feet from the point of impact, down an embankment. Our client was facing as much as 45 years in prison if convicted of the causing the deaths of these 3 children.Cory Yager’s Experience as a Law Enforcement Officer Helped Win This Felony Homicide by Vehicle Case
Once hired, our law office sought the assistance of a seasoned accident investigator, who had been previously trained as a State Trooper. The former police officer had prior experience with thousands of auto accident investigations and numerous fatality wreck investigations.
He went to the scene, investigated all the vehicles involved in the collisions, and was able to review the EDR (electronic data recorder) or “black box” downloads from the two at-fault vehicles. Not many people are aware of this, but nearly all cars have a device that records their driving actions for a short time prior to air bag deployment.
As a result of EDR technology, the data collected can be helpful or can be harmful in some cases. Except in rare cases of flaws in the device, the EDR will show exactly what was happening in the moments before a crash.
In this case, our client was travelling at 82 miles an hour in a 45 mile an hour zone. A woman was turning left at the intersection of Memorial Drive and Constitution Ave in Dekalb County. In addition to our client, another vehicle in the lane next to her was travelling at a high rate of speed as well – 83 m.p.h.
The State brought in several witnesses who had observed the carnage to the police officers investigating the accident. Mr. Yager, a former police officer who had personally investigated many fatality accidents, was designated to be the person to cross-examine the police and the accident investigators for both sides of this case.
Although law partners, criminal defense attorneys Atlanta Cory Yager and Larry Kohn had never jury tried a case together. Our firm’s tag team approach worked incredibly well. No criminal lawyer anywhere in Georgia was more adept at speaking the language of police at a crash scene. Our two Atlanta lawyers split the task of examining witnesses in the trial.
As the woman with the three child passengers in the car turned left, that vehicle was stuck in a T bone fashion by the vehicle in the lane next to our client. This collision took place on the rear passenger door and caused catastrophic damage to the three children in the back seat of the car.
The force from this accident pushed that vehicle into our client’s lane of travel. Our client’s car sheared off the front bumper of the car with the children inside. This second collision was catastrophic as well, causing the vehicle with the children to spin out of control and strike a guard rail. This impact caused a child to be ejected from the car.
The evidence was irrefutable that our firm’s client was driving way too fast on a heavily-traveled roadway. The police investigating the crash alleged that she was racing the car next to her, causing a mother to lose all three of her children.
The offer prior to trial was for our client to serve ten years in prison. Our client had never been in trouble before and (after conferring with our client) our criminal defense attorneys in Atlanta did not accept the District Attorney’s offer. Cory Yager and Larry Kohn prepared the case for trial in December of 2017. Law Partners Larry Kohn and Cory Yager tried the case to a 12-person jury for a full week.The Delicate Task of Cross-Examining the Grieving Mother of the Three Dead Children
Perhaps the most difficult trial experience Partner Larry Kohn has had as a defense lawyer was cross examining the mother who lost her three children. Mr. Kohn had to politely and delicately attack her credibility. Our criminal justice attorneys were able to convince the trial judge to allow the defense team to point out that the children were not restrained in seat belts and car seats. This was a hotly contested pre-trial motion legal issue that the Prosecutor fought against.
Under Georgia laws, in vehicular homicide cases, the negligence of decedents who were mere passengers is usually not relevant. However, some evidence existed that ejection assured that the children would not survive, so the seat belt issue was part of our defense attorneys’ strategy.
By fighting this motion and getting the Judge to see how important this fact was to our criminal defense, our two criminal defense attorneys were able to argue several related factors to the jury.
First, our criminal law attorneys admitted that our client was driving too fast. That “admission” gave us credibility with the jury. Our attorneys then argued that the first accident (impact) was the catastrophic “event” that launched the children from their seats and ultimately killed the 3 children.
Next, our Atlanta attorneys were able to show that the mother of the children improperly turned in front of oncoming traffic. Lastly, our law partners argued that she failed to restrain her children.
The jury convicted our client of reckless driving, a misdemeanor offense with a maximum of 12 months in custody but found her NOT GUILTY of the three counts of vehicular homicide, for which forth-five years in State prison was possible. The full reckless driving GA statute, OCGA 40-6-390, is available at this link.
Her co-defendant, the male driver of the other speeding car next to our client, was not so lucky. He was found guilty of all three counts of 1st degree homicide by vehicle, a felony, and sentenced to forty-five years in a Georgia State Prison, with the first thirty years in be in custody.
Very few Georgia lawyers have ever tried a complex criminal case of this magnitude in a jury trial. Most attorneys in Georgia have never achieved a not guilty verdict for all serious felony “counts” in an emotion-packed case like this one, with so much on the line and so much evidence of “fault” against their client.
Mr. Yager and Mr. Kohn continue to use their trial skills to help accident victims in addition to people charged with causing serious accidents involving felony vehicle homicide. The accident occurred in April of 2015 and trial concluded on December 15, 2017.
Call our law office if you need to consult with us about any criminal offense. The GA criminal defense attorneys at our law office have more than a collective 77 years of experience. Don’t trust such critically important legal matters to just ANY lawyers near me. Seek the best criminal defense lawyers in Georgia for your case.
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More LINKS for your Review:
Larry Kohn, AVVO Superstar with over 470 Client Reviews
Ex-Cop Cory Yager, Martindale-Hubbell Highest Ethical Lawyer Ratings and Skill Level
William C. Head, named Georgia Super Lawyers 17 years in a row, since the award was first offered for Top Attorney Ratings
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