A man charged in a 2016 fatal hit and run was sentenced in Columbia County court Monday.
Judge Sheryl B. Jolly sentenced Christopher Michael Cheek to a total of nine years in prison in the October 2016 death of Timothy Darly Smith.
Cheek pleaded guilty in a plea deal to vehicular homicide in the first degree, failure to report accident, reckless driving and driving on the wrong side of the roadway. Cheek also pleaded guilty to a Richmond County charge in the case of tampering with evidence. In exchange for the guilty plea, the state dropped an additional charge of aggravated assault, as there was no evidence to prove Cheek intended to hit Smith.
Jolly sentenced Cheek to eight years for vehicular homicide in the first degree, along with another 12 months in prison for failure to report an accident to be served concurrent. Cheek also waived venue and pleaded guilty to a Richmond County charge of tampering with evidence in the case, for which Jolley sentenced him to the 12 months in confinement, the maximum allowed by law.
According to Assistant District Attorney Pete Lamb, Cheek was originally indicted on a felony count of tampering with evidence that held a maximum sentence of five years in confinement, however, discovery of earlier case law suggested he could only receive misdemeanor treatment with a maximum sentence of 12 months in confinement.
Cheek also received 12 months probation each for the charges of reckless driving and driving on the wrong side of the roadway.
Lamb said Cheek was not caught until days after the crash, during which time he made several repairs to his car, going as far as replacing the hood.
A witness to the hit and run recalled through tears hearing the crash and Smith’s screams, adding the only thing that slowed Cheek down was the impact.
Smith was thrown more than 100 feet and was hit so hard he came out of his shoes, according to Lamb. Smith, 22, died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck.
“I think it came across very clearly that it would be an entirely different story had he simply stopped,” Lamb said of Cheek. “We can speculate all day long why he did not stop, but the fact is he didn’t.”
Lamb stated four prescription pill bottles were in the car at the time of Cheek’s arrest in North Augusta, though no toxicology tests were performed because he fled the scene.
Defense co-counsels argued even if Cheek had stopped, Smith could not have been saved. The defense asked the judge to consider a lesser sentence than the 15 years the state requested, because Cheek had no intentions on hitting Smith.
Smith’s mother also addressed the court, and at times spoke directly to Cheek.
“He didn’t even have the decency to stop,” Leanne Smith told the court through tears.
“Be accountable. You have put us in a nightmare we will never wake up from.”
Jolly said she took into consideration that Cheek did not take the case to trial, which would have caused the family and witnesses further pain, adding that no judgment would make either side happy.
Cheek has already served 14 months in the Columbia County Detention Center and will be given credit for time served.