Judge suspends teen's jail term

Driver in fatal accident is ordered to attend vigil at site of wreck

A judge agreed Tuesday to release the teen driver who caused a fatal wreck in May so she can attenda candlelight vigil Friday.


Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Douglas Flanagan suspended the remainder of Amber Rose Lever's one-year jail term. She will be released from a Sandersville, Ga., juvenile detention facility Thursday.

Lever, 16, was driving a friend's Mercury Mountaineer on May 26 when she veered onto Old Belair Lane. She hit a trash can, lost control and hit a tree.

Taylor Gazaway, 17, was in the back seat and died shortly after the wreck. He and another back-seat passenger were not wearing seat belts.

Lever was driving on a Class D license with five passengers. Such a license prohibits her from having more than one nonfamily member younger than 21 as a passenger.

On July 15, Lever pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide, driving too fast for conditions and a license violation for having too many passengers. Flanagan sentenced her to a year in confinement.

"One of the strongest things I weighed today was basically what the victims want," Flanagan said Tuesday, adding that about 250 people crowded the courtroom in the Columbia County Courthouse in Evans. "I mainly listened to the (family of the) victim. Victims have a strong impact with the court because we want to hear the victims' views."

Gazaway's mother, Dana Banker, initially pleaded for Flanagan not to incarcerate Lever, who was a long-time friend of her son. Banker said Tuesday that she wanted Lever to attend a candlelight vigil at the crash site at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

"She must appear at the vigil in her orange prison jumpsuit and talk to other kids and people present about what happened," Flanagan said. The judge said reports from the detention facility show Lever as remorseful and miserable.

Lever also must speak to schools, churches and other groups about her situation.

"She put herself in jail," Flanagan told the group gathered in the courtroom. "That's how she got there, because she didn't listen."

The wreck was Lever's second license violation in less than six months for driving with too many passengers. For that first offense, she got probation, a brief license suspension, community service and a fine.

Lever's one-year sentence still stands, but she will serve it on probation. If she has any more brushes with the law, she will return to confinement, Flanagan said.

"If, in fact, she messes up, I have the right to put her back and incarcerate her," the judge said.

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