ATHENS - A Clarke County Superior Court judge recently handed a 31-year sentence to a Madison County woman, who while driving intoxicated struck and killed a University of Georgia student last year.
Judge Eric Norris ordered Whitney Baker Howard, 32, to serve the first 25 years of her sentence in prison and the balance on probation, according to documents filed this week in Clarke County Superior Court.
Athens-Clarke County police said on Sept. 12, 2016, Howard swerved across the center line of Athena Drive and plowed into a group of cyclists, killing 25-year-old UGA graduate student Ashley Block. Another cyclist, Mitchell Enfinger, was seriously injured.
“I think it is a fair sentence considering a life was taken needlessly and two others were seriously injured, but I personally take no joy in seeing this young lady go to prison,” David Crowe, an Athens attorney and cycling safety advocate, said in an email. “However, the sentence is fair and it is justified by her actions.”
Howard’s 2-year-old daughter was with her when the woman swerved across the center line of Athena Drive as she tried to answer her cellphone. Drug tests revealed the presence of methadone and other drugs in her system, according to court documents.
Prior to the fatal collision with the cyclist, according to court records, Howard had been twice charged with driving under the influence of drugs following collisions with cars.
After a week-long trial in late October, the jury found Howard guilty of two counts of felony first-degree vehicular homicide and seven counts of inflicting serious injury with a vehicle, in addition to single counts of driving under the influence of drugs and endangering a child while driving under the influence of drugs.
The jury also found her guilty of failure to maintain her lane, the underlying offense for one of the counts of vehicular homicide.
Block was remembered as a promising graduate student in integrative conservation and anthropology. She was also active in Athens’ Emmanuel Episcopal Church.
“This case has had a big impact on the cycling community and has brought us closer together in many respects,” Crowe said. “We understand the obligation we have to obey the rules of the road and to respect the fellow motorists, but we also understand we are in peril on the roadways. I would simply urge motorists to give us room and to respect our rights. We’ll do the same.”