Tammy Sue Haas will never be able to talk with her daughter, Cindy, again. She should have a one-year-old grandson named Nathan to play with and spoil rotten, but he was never born.
Now she raises her three other grandchildren. She can’t convince the three-year-old that mommy is dead and won’t be back. A 10-year-old grandchild suffered a severe brain injury, and doesn’t function as a 10-year-old should any longer.
The reason for her anguish was the actions of one man, who selfishly barreled up I-75 as fast as he could in a pick-up truck while drunk and on prescription medication.
In late July, a Whitley County jury convicted Raymond Garner, 46, of Anderson, Tenn., on two counts of murder, one count of fetal homicide and four counts of first-degree assault. Jurors recommended three life sentences on the homicide charges and four 20-year sentences on the assault charges and asked that they be served consecutively or one after the other.
“I’m begging you please don’t let him go,” Haas told Circuit Judge Paul Braden during Raymond Garner’s formal sentencing hearing Monday morning.
Braden sentenced Garner to the three life sentences, four 20 year sentences, and two one year sentences on the drunk driving and driving on a DUI suspended license charges that Garner pled guilty to prior to trial.
The only thing he couldn’t sentence Garner to were consecutive life sentences, which he noted are required to be served concurrently or at the same time under state law.
“The jury recommended that these be run consecutively Mr. Garner. Quite frankly, the court would have done so if I were permitted by law to do so,” Braden noted.
Garner will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years behind bars.
The July 9, 2007, wreck on I-75 near Williamsburg also decapitated eight-year-old Gus Pontikis, who was riding in a minivan with his father and 10-year-old brother.
Garner was going 93 mph weaving into and out of traffic when he struck a guardrail, went into the median, went airborne and struck the Haas and Pontikis vehicles, according to testimony during his trial.
According to a black box recording device in the truck, he never took his foot off the gas pedal that was floored until after the crash.
He was pulling a trailer with most of his possessions. Garner was in the process of moving to Kentucky to go live with a friend, who was going to drive him to work because his license was suspended, witnesses testified during the trial.
A state forensic expert estimated that Garner’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was about .25. A person is considered legally intoxicated in Kentucky and most states, with a blood alcohol level of .08.
The expert also testified that the Valium, which Garner had in his system through a prescription, would have only increased the alcohol’s effects.
He was drinking wine out of a cup while driving. After the crash, he initially told authorities that a hitchhiker had been driving and ran off. Garner later changed his story.
Monday’s hearing resulted in tense moments between Tammy Haas and Garner over an interview Garner gave to a Lexington television station.
During the hearing, she read from a portion of the interview where Garner was asked if he wished he could change things. His reply according to the article Haas read from was, “yeah at times.”
“I’m sorry, but you stand there and say you’re sorry to us, but you feel no remorse whatsoever for my family or the Pontikis family,” Haas told Garner.
“I did not say that,” Garner replied.
“We will never have my daughter back. Every day I ask myself why. Why somebody didn’t stop you, not once but three times in the state he was picked up,” Haas said.
“Now, I don’t have a new grandson that should be a year old on the fifth. I don’t have my daughter looking at me saying, ‘I love you. What is for supper?’ I have kids that have nightmares every night.”
Braden noted Garner’s previous convictions for drunk driving in 2003 and 2007. At the time of the crash, his license was suspended stemming from a DUI charge.
When he got a chance to address the court, Garner told the judge and Haas that the statement listed in the article was not true.
“I told them that it is on my mind all the time ever since. I would do anything if I could to make this all go away and bring everybody back,” Garner said.
“I would lay my life on the table right now 100 times over to bring anybody back and take all this away. You can take my life any time to bring anybody back.”
If and when he is released from prison, Braden also ordered Garner to pay $125 in court costs, a $500 fine and a $375 DUI fee.
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