Family questions driver's sentence

Published 3:24 am Saturday, March 8, 2003

By By SARAH HODGES, Staff Writer
WILLIAMSTON – A Jamesville woman was sentenced Wednesday in a Martin County courtroom for her actions behind the wheel in a July 28, 2002, motor vehicle accident that claimed the life of one of her passengers and left another wheelchair bound.
According to District Attorney Seth Edwards, Emma Hardison of Jamesville was indicted Monday on charges of manslaughter and felony death by motor vehicle.
Wednesday, Hardison pled guilty to felony death by motor vehicle.
Judge William Griffin issued Hardison a suspended sentence of no less than 16 months and no more than 20 months. The defendant was ordered to pay more than $7,000 in funeral expenses for the burial of Christy Barber, also of Jamesville, who was killed in the accident. Hardison surrendered her driver's license for three years and is on intensive probation for three years.
Edwards stated Hardison will serve 150 hours of community service, working specifically with those who need assistance based on their health condition. She will serve no active jail time for the accident.
According to reports from the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Hardison reportedly lost control of the Chevrolet S-10 pickup she was driving after leaving Deadwood in Bear Grass. The day after the accident Trooper Kip Sales told the Daily News Hardison's truck hit a ditch and cement piping, which caused the vehicle to flip. Alcohol and speed contributed to the wreck, according to Sales.
Barber, who turned 18 just two weeks prior to the accident, and Tiffany Beacham, Hardison's passengers, were thrown from the truck. Barber was pronounced dead at the scene. For weeks, family members could not be certain Beacham would survive.
Now confined to a wheelchair, the 22-year-old Beacham managed to appear in court Wednesday. Her sister, Bridget Beacham of Blounts Creek, said the tense situation and the ruling was nearly more than Tiffany or anyone in the family could handle.
Although the Beacham family said they harbor no ill-will towards Hardison, it was difficult to hear such a light sentence.
"She gets to go home and be with her family everyday," Beacham said. "No active time with probation, it's just hard to understand."
Bridget Beacham, a native of Martin County, expressed her concern over how the courtroom and the case was handled.
"It's not a circus," she said. Beacham described the troubling scenario her sister was taken into.
"We saw our friends and neighbors stacked up on the other side of the courtroom against us," she said. "People who have been there for us since the accident, not even speaking to us now."
She paused. "It was like we went into an ambush."
Bridget Beacham questioned whether or not the judge – Martin County resident and native William Griffin – should have stepped down from such a high profile case.
Edwards said he knew of no specific reason Griffin should have recused himself from the case.
"The judge sentenced her (Hardison) within his discretion and within the guidelines of the law," he said.
Bridget Beacham said she wonders what it is going to take for tougher punishments to be handed down for drinking and driving.
"There needs to be tougher sentencing," she said. "This (drinking and driving) can not continue to be acceptable behavior that gets a slap on the wrist."
Bridget Beacham said she sees her sister, who is now paralyzed from the chest down, and wonders what it will take for things to change.
Tiffany Beacham is not waiting for the justice system to change regarding drunk driving. According to her sister, Tiffany has begun speaking to groups about her accident and her journey that has followed since July 28.
Next week, Tiffany Beacham will speak at Barton College – where she was to be a senior – as a part of a seminar entitled "It Can't Happen To Me."