BENTON - Saturday, October 15, 2011 changed the lives of two local teens and their families forever.
At approximately 2 p.m., emergency workers were dispatched to Big Bear Highway in reference to a rollover injury collision.
According to police reports, the two males involved in the collision had made several comments about drinking prior to the crash.
The driver of the vehicle, 20 year-old Justin E. Weathers, was asked to submit to a blood test, which revealed a high level of alcohol. An empty bottle of alcohol and silver foil still containing trace amounts of marijuana was found at the scene.
The passenger of the vehicle, 19 year-old Matt Jones, of Calvert City, was airlifted to Vanderbilt Medical Center due to the severity of his injuries.
After being released from the hospital, Weathers was arrested and charged with first-degree assault, operating a motor vehicle under the influence, possession of open alcoholic beverage container in vehicle, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jones was paralyzed from the waist down in the incident.
After taking more than a year for the case to move through the court system, yesterday in Marshall County Circuit Court, Weathers was sentenced to eight years in jail for his actions.
Prior to sentencing, Weathers’ attorney addressed the court speaking on his behalf saying of his client who, prior to the accident had been working and going to school, “This just goes to show you how one bad mistake with alcohol or drugs - what it can do…that a poor lapse in judgment can cost a lost a lot – it will probably cost him the rest of his life.” He went on to say that despite his mistake, he felt Weathers who has been incarcerated since the incident, could still “be a useful, productive member of society,” asking that his time be probated.
Jones’ father Doug then took the opportunity to address the court telling of the trials his family has experienced since the accident.
“I’m not here to change anybody’s mind about sentencing,” Jones began. “But your honor I just want everyone to understand what’s happened because no one knows how this has affected our family except for us.”
Jones said his son spent nine days in Vanderbilt Medical Center before being transferred to the Shepherd Center in Georgia. “His back was broke in half,” he told Marshall County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Foust.
Citing over $1.7 million in medical bills to date, Jones said of Weather’s lack of insurance, “I’m the one paying for his party – I feel like I’m the one being punished because I have good insurance.”
Jones told the court of how he and his wife have had to remodel their home to accommodate their son’s wheelchair following the incident.
“He used to play baseball and basketball – you don’t know what it’s like to walk in his room and see him laying there…his life has completely changed. I can’t begin to tell you how much it’s changed my life.
“I forgive him [Weathers] for what he has done, but there are consequences for what you do.”
Following statements from both sides, Judge Foust ruled that “Imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public,” sentencing Weathers to eight years for the charges of 2nd-degree assault and aggravated DUI. He was given a 90-day license suspension and will be paying restitution which will be outlined in a separate order. Weathers will be eligible for parole in approximately 18 months.