Teen pleads guilty in Brunswick wreck that killed 17 year old, paralyzed 16 year old

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A Brunswick County teen will not serve any prison time for a September 2014 wreck that killed one teen and seriously injured several others.

Joshua Walker Coleman, 17, pleaded guilty in Brunswick County District Court on Wednesday to misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, driving left of center and two violations of a provisional driver’s license—exceeding the number of passengers allowed in the vehicle and the time he was allowed to drive, according to Assistant District Attorney Jamie Turnage.

District Judge Jerry Jolly sentenced Coleman to 60 days in prison, which was suspended, and ordered him to be placed on unsupervised probation for five years. Coleman’s sentence will not be activated if he complies with his probation.

Coleman was charged in a single-vehicle wreck that killed 17-year-old Tyrus Johnston in the early morning hours of Sept. 14, 2014. Coleman was the driver of a Chevrolet truck that overturned when it struck a ditch at 1425 Holden Beach Road.

Johnston, of Shallotte, died from his injuries at Grand Strand Medical Center, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He was riding in the bed of the truck with two other victims, Turnage said.

The other teenagers–ages 14 to 17–suffered varying degrees of injuries in the wreck. A female victim, who was 16 at the time of the wreck, was paralyzed, Turnage said.

All of the teens involved in the wreck were cadets in West Brunswick High School’s Junior ROTC program, according to Brunswick County Schools Spokeswoman Jessica Swencki.

Alcohol and speed were not contributing factors in the wreck, Turnage said. In 911 audio released in September, Coleman told a 911 dispatcher that he fell asleep while driving.

Evidence from highway patrol showed the truck was traveling 50 mph with no change in the vehicle’s movement before the wreck occurred, which is consistent with a crash resulting from a driver falling asleep, Turnage said. The speed limit in the area the vehicle was traveling is 55 mph.

Coleman was given a number of conditions at sentencing. He was ordered to serve 48 hours of community service, an additional 12 hours of speaking to peers about the dangers of violating license restrictions and ordered to write a letter of apology to each of the victim’s families including the Johnston family “about the dangers of the decisions of that evening,” Turnage said.

“Cases like this are so hard to work. They’re just sad. They are no winners in cases like this and there’s really no victory…no matter what the outcome. I think these are some of the hardest cases that we deal with for that very reason.

“He’s not a bad person. He made a bad decision and these are pretty dire consequences of that decision.”

Christina Haley is a crime reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6337 or Christina.h@portcitydaily.com.