Assigned on Briefs October 7, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 1201159 Chris Craft, Judge.
Donna Graham Lawson, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Artterraces Buchanan.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Rachel E. Willis, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Marianne Bell, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE
This case arises from a motor vehicle accident occurring on October 10, 2011, in which both the Defendant-Appellant, Artterraces Buchanan, and Sergeant Trini Dean were seriously injured. The Defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to one count of reckless aggravated assault, a Class D felony. See T.C.A. § 39-13-102. The matter proceeded to a sentencing hearing on November 20, 2013.
At the hearing, the State entered into evidence the Defendant's presentence report, medical records, and certified copies of his juvenile court records. The State also called one witness.
Trini Dean testified that he was formerly a sergeant with the Shelby County Sheriff's Office but was currently on long-term disability status as a result of the October 2011 accident. On the day of the incident, Sergeant Dean was driving northbound on Airways Boulevard to work when the Defendant's vehicle struck him in a head-on collision. He said that he was driving at a rate of approximately thirty to thirty-five miles per hour and that the Defendant was presumably driving at a higher rate of speed because Sergeant Dean's squad vehicle "stopped immediately upon impact." The Defendant's vehicle ignited, and the fire spread to Sergeant Dean's vehicle. He said that the impact dislodged his vehicle's electrical system, therefore locking his seatbelt and jamming his doors and windows. It took several Memphis police officers and firefighters to break the door and pull him from the vehicle.
As a result of the accident, Sergeant Dean sustained fractures to both knees and his thigh bones. He had brackets placed on the outside of his knees and rods in his legs. He believed that he had fourteen screws placed in his left leg and sixteen screws in his right leg. Sergeant Dean had four broken ribs on his right side, a fracture in the back of his neck, and a broken right hand and wrist. His broken right hand affected his job because he needed that hand to use a gun. His last test reflected that he had eighty percent strength in that hand. Sergeant Dean was hospitalized for twenty-four days at Methodist University Hospital and then released for two weeks of recovery at Health South Rehabilitation Hospital. He was confined to a wheelchair for about ninety days and was able to walk about six months after the accident. Twenty years prior to the collision in this case, Sergeant Dean had to have both legs amputated below the knee after a roadside accident. After the current accident, he had to be refitted twice for new prosthetics. He also suffered financial losses because his doctors would not clear him to return to active duty. He reported that during his time away from work, his income was "cut by about sixty percent." Apart from the eighty percent strength in his right arm, Sergeant Dean was limited to standing for brief periods of time and could only sit for two-hour increments. Consequently, he was placed on long-term disability and received sixty percent of his normal salary. In terms of experiencing pain, he stated that "[s]ome days [we]re better than others" and that he had a lot of stiffness and soreness on cold days.
Sergeant Dean considered himself and the Defendant to be blessed to be alive. He held no ill will against the Defendant and understood that the Defendant was eighteen at the time and that the accident was a mistake. However, he opined that "there should be some punishment involved in this matter[, ]" in particular "to try to correct this behavior." To his knowledge, neither the Defendant nor the Defendant's family had contacted him to apologize or to check on him.
On cross-examination, Sergeant Dean testified that he did not notice the Defendant's vehicle until the impact. He did not believe that the collision was intentional. At the time of the accident, Sergeant Dean had been working for twenty-three years and had planned on retiring after thirty years or more. He acknowledged that he could engage in some physical activity. Sergeant Dean agreed on redirect examination that the number of years he worked affected the amount of pension that he received.
After the State's proof, the defense called two witnesses. Diane McGhee, the Defendant's mother, testified that she currently lived with the Defendant, a daughter, and two grandchildren. She said that she and other members of the Defendant's family would support him if he were released on probation or judicial diversion. She explained that the Defendant's uncle played "a big role" in his life and usually picked him up from work as a dishwasher at Applebee's. She stated that the Defendant worked five days a week from 5:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and that the Defendant's uncle or one of his older sisters usually took him to work. Ms. McGhee stated that after the accident, her son had difficulty remembering things and that family members had to remind him everyday to check that he had his identification and other items for work. When the Defendant returned from work, he would "probably eat something, take a bath and go to bed." She noticed physical changes in her son, including the fact that he could no longer run or play sports. She said that he had bad vision, nerve damage in his face, and scars on his body. She was reminded of the accident every day and said that her son was "a better person now."
Ms. McGhee said that she had an eye disease and that on the day of the accident, the Defendant drove her to work at Memphis International Airport because he was the only person available to take her. She denied that the Defendant smoked marijuana, used drugs, or drank alcohol that day. She said that she would not have let him drive her truck if he had been under the influence of any substances. On the way to the airport, the Defendant drove normally and did not speed. He dropped her off and continued to drive normally away from the airport. Ms. McGhee had no explanation for the accident. She apologized to Sergeant Dean for his injuries and for allowing her son to drive without a license. For her part in the accident, she was also charged and given a $500 fine. She said that her son did not currently smoke, drink, or use illegal substances in her home. After multiple attempts, the Defendant obtained his driver's license.
Ms. McGhee said that her son graduated from Whitehaven High School in 2011 and then he had a job packing rice in a warehouse through a temporary agency. She said that about two weeks before the accident, her son interviewed for another job and that the company called him while he was hospitalized. When she arrived at the hospital on the day of the collision, the Defendant was heavily sedated and "banged up bad." In describing her son's injuries, Ms. McGhee stated that "[h]e had a blood clot on his brain. His collar bone was broke. His femur was broke. Both his legs and they had to go in his stomach twice. . . . [b]ecause his bowel had twisted." She said that he was first taken to Methodist Hospital and was later transported to Regional Medical Center, or "the Med, " to treat his second and third-degree burns. He underwent a skin graft and remained at the Med for a month. After his discharge, the Defendant was confined to a wheelchair for about three months and his mother took care of him, including bathing and feeding him. He taught himself to walk again but he had a limp.
Ms. McGhee acknowledged that the Defendant had a juvenile record and that he committed delinquent acts with friends in the neighborhood. She said that since the accident, her son no longer hung out with the same friends and that he did not have an adult criminal record. She stated that the Defendant spent most of his time either at work or at home, and he occasionally went to the movies. According to Ms. McGhee, the Defendant was older, wiser, and would stay out of trouble in the future. She said that when her son was younger, "he was just being a kid." She stated that her son almost died because of the accident and that he had to fight for his life. She believed that the his days of juvenile delinquency were over.
On cross-examination, Ms. McGhee testified that she did not own a vehicle and denied that the Defendant continued to drive occasionally. She thought that her son may have been driving a friend's car when he was arrested on January 14, 2013, for driving with a revoked license. She acknowledged that before the accident, the Defendant drove her to work without a license "every day that [she] needed to work." Ms. McGhee denied that the Defendant did what he wanted with the car after dropping her off. She said she "always called and checked and made sure that he went back home." Although she was at work, she said that her two daughters were at ...