NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A Georgia man will serve less than one year in prison in connection with an October 2015 hit-and-run involving four pedestrians near the entrance of the Marsh Oaks community in Porters Neck.
Aaron Blake Williams, 24, pleaded guilty Tuesday in New Hanover County Superior Court to charges of felony hit and run resulting in serious injury or death, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon, reckless driving to endanger, and driving left of center.
Four people – three men and a woman – were walking on the shoulder of Marsh Oaks Drive at about 1:45 a.m., Oct. 10, 2015, when William’s vehicle ran off the road and struck them from behind.
A male called 911 to report that a green SUV had struck the pedestrians, according to Assistant District Attorney Doug Carriker. North Carolina State Highway Patrol investigators later determined that caller to be Williams.
The four pedestrians were not on the street, but in a grassy area near the entrance of the Marsh Oaks neighborhood, Carriker said. He added that Williams returned to the scene to give CPR to the victims.
First responders who arrived on the scene found each of the victims unconscious. Carriker said the victims include: Keith David Hatcher, Francis Meehan, Maurine Meehan and Jeffrey West.
“Their injuries — all of them — had broken bones, they were unconscious, they experienced great pain and suffering,” Carriker said. “Mr. West in particular, was in a coma for nearly a month.”
Laine West, wife of then 51-year-old Jeffrey “Jeff” West, was one of two people to speak following Williams’ plea in court.
“Everything changed that night for our family,” Laine West said.
Laine West had stayed home that night while her husband went out to a local bar with the group, all of whom were close neighbors. She found out her husband was in the hospital from one of her neighbors. But when she got there, she couldn’t find him.
“I could not find Jeff. He was under the name “John Doe” because he was thrown over 50 feet and had no identification on him – it was scattered everywhere.”
When she finally located her husband hours later, she didn’t know if he would live.
“All I knew is that it was bad,” Laine West said.
Jeff West’s major arteries had been severed and he was bleeding internally, Laine West said, adding that she thought she would have to tell her son that his father wasn’t going to make it.
“But by the grace of God and the prayers of this community, friends and family that didn’t happen,” West said. “He survived.”
Jeff West had several injuries, including a fractured pelvis, collapsed lung, lacerated eye, and damage to his organs, and several broken bones.
“You name it he had it,” Laine West said. “Everyone … is just amazed today that he is still walking and moving.”
Though her husband did make it through a long recovery process, Jeff West, a once very active man, cannot run again, Laine West said.
“His life is managing his pain, which he will do for the rest of his life,” Laine West said. “This has strained our family financially, physically and emotionally. Every day we wake up and consider ourselves … grateful.”
“We make peace with whatever happens to you today,” Laine West said to the defendant. “We really hope this sends a message to the community.”
Carriker said hit-and-run crimes easily escape detection.
Highway Patrol had little evidence to connect an offender to the crime scene in the early stages of the investigation, Carriker said. A major break in this case came about a week later, when one of Williams’ co-workers at a local electric company told authorities Williams had confided in him and claimed responsibility for the incident.
The investigation also determined Williams had made a false claim to his insurance company that his vehicle was damaged when he hit a deer in South Carolina. Troopers found his Dodge Ram at a repair shop in South Carolina and seized the vehicle for the investigation.
Receipts were also obtained that showed Williams had been to several bar establishments in the Porter’s Neck and Ogden areas of Wilmington prior to the incident. Williams’ cell phone records were also obtained and revealed Internet searches of local media outlets for the hit-and-run wreck at Marsh Oaks.
“The word just needs to go out that if you are involved in a collision like this your making things much, much, worse for yourself by driving away from the scene,” Carriker said. “People should stay on the scene when they are involved in this kind of collision.”
Williams’ mother also addressed the court after the plea, and sympathized with victims in the case.
Superior Court Judge Ebern T. Watson sentenced Williams 25 to 36 months, which was suspended, and ordered him to serve a 10-month active sentence in the North Carolina Department of Corrections. That will be followed by 60 months of probation.
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