Man gets 8-year term in fatal hit-and-run of boy

An Augusta man will spend eight years in prison and another 12 on probation for the hit-and-run death last year of a 12-year-old Athens boy who was bicycling near his home in Southeastern Clarke County.

 

A Clarke County Superior Court judge sentenced Joseph Patrick Armstrong late Wednesday afternoon, after the judge accepted a plea agreement between prosecutors and the 24-year-old Gainesville State College student.

Armstrong struck and killed Gedera Thomas early the morning of June 8, 2008, after he and friends spent the night drinking in downtown Athens. Armstrong told police he thought he had struck a dog.

The crash, not far from Thomas' home on East Whitehall Road, happened two months before Thomas was to begin sixth grade at Coile Middle School.

The boy's mother, Barbara Robinson, said Wednesday she thought Armstrong deserved a stiffer sentence, but she went along with the plea bargain because she didn't want to take the chance that he might be acquitted.

"Something is better than nothing," Robinson said.

She was glad that Armstrong took responsibility, she said, noting that he cried and asked for forgiveness at his sentencing.

"He said he wished he could take it all back," she said.

"I hope he learned his lesson, but no amount of time he gets will bring back my baby, and I'm always going to miss my baby," Robinson said.

As part of the deal, Armstrong pleaded guilty to first-degree homicide by vehicle, DUI and leaving the scene of an accident, and prosecutors dropped a second vehicular homicide count.

Judge Steve Jones ordered that during his first year of probation, Armstrong can only drive to school, work or for medical services.

Even then, his car must be equipped with a device that checks his breath for alcohol before it can start, the judge ruled.

Armstrong had a previous alcohol-related arrest, in 2004, and was sentenced to a year of probation for underage alcohol possession and using someone else's driver's license. As a condition of probation at the time, a judge ordered him into treatment at Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia in Augusta.

After a night of bar-hopping last summer, Armstrong made a pit stop at his home on Wakefield Terrace, off Barnett Shoals Road and about a half mile from Thomas' house, Athens-Clarke police said. He left again to drive friends to a mobile home park off Danielsville Road.

At about the same time, Thomas and his 17-year-old brother slipped out of their house and were riding their bikes to see the older brother's girlfriend on Cedar Shoals Drive.

Armstrong's truck passed the older boy, who was riding about 10 feet behind his brother, then swerved right and struck Thomas, police said.

The collision woke up the pickup's front-seat passenger, and Armstrong told him that he had struck a dog, according to police.

A tipster - someone who knew that Armstrong's pickup had been damaged and that police were investigating a fatal hit-and-run - told police that Armstrong might be involved and was bringing his truck to an auto body shop.

The police were waiting for Armstrong at the shop and arrested him.

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