Prosecutors want driver 
in fatal wreck treated as adult

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Beth Warren
Date: 2003/03/12

Prosecutors plan to charge a 16-year-old as an adult for Friday's wreck that killed two people.

But first, the Gwinnett County district attorney would have to convince a Juvenile Court judge that she deserves the harshest penalty possible.

Police blame Wendy Jennings of Duluth for causing the crash that killed her teenage passenger and a Duluth woman in another car.

There were no opened beer cans or other signs of drinking, but police believe the Norcross High School students may have been involved in a drag race.

Jennings was headed south on Peachtree Parkway in a BMW when she lost control of the car, hit the median, flipped and landed on a Honda Accord.

The crash killed the Honda driver, Julia Burns, 61, and Jennings' passenger, Jacob Miller, 17.

The strip of Peachtree Parkway where the crash occurred has a reputation as a racing haven.

"Whether she was speeding or racing hasn't been determined yet," police spokesman Cpl. Dan Huggins said. "That would make it reckless and bump it up to first-degree vehicular homicide, which is a felony.

"Regardless, she is considered the at-fault driver," he said. "She crossed over the median into the wrong lanes of traffic."

Jennings remained at Gwinnett Medical Center's neuroscience unit Tuesday. Her mother was at her bedside and declined comment in the case.

District Attorney Danny Porter said he has not discussed details with police but said the case belongs in Superior Court, where the penalties are much stiffer.

"Given the seriousness of the incident, my preference and my plan is to charge her as an adult if possible," Porter said.

The harshest possible sentence in Juvenile Court is up to five years confinement in a juvenile facility.

In adult court, the teen could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of first-degree vehicular homicide.

The average sentence for that crime is about 8 1/2 years, Porter said.

But first, Porter would have to convince a Juvenile Court judge that the teen should be treated as an adult.

Porter said he can't remember when that has happened in a vehicular homicide case.

Teens are most frequently tried as adults for violent crimes such as murder, armed robbery and sexual offenses.

Porter would have to prove that Jennings can't be reformed in the juvenile system and that treating her as an adult is either in her best interest or in the best interest of the community.

Drag racing is being blamed for another recent fatal wreck.

Paul Copeland, 17, of Snellville and Stephen Carter, 18, of Loganville are charged with felony vehicular homicide in the death of a Gwinnett police sergeant's son.

Both were reportedly racing westbound on U.S. 78 on Feb. 7 when Copeland's truck broadsided a Honda Civic driven by 17-year-old Amanda Anderson.

The passenger in Anderson's car, 17-year-old South Gwinnett High School student Matthew Lane, died from injuries two days later. Lane's father is police Sgt. Randy Lane.



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