Trial begins for man charged in Fort Gordon soldier's traffic death

The trial for a motorist accused of fatally striking a Fort Gordon soldier with his car in 2011 began Thursday.

Gerald Wright was indicted on two felony charges of homicide by vehicle and two misdemeanors in the wreck on Laney-Walker Boulevard that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class James “Jay” Gray.

Testimony revealed that Gray spent most of May 22, 2011, traveling around Augusta on a Kawasaki motorcycle with a friend, Torrey Collins, who was riding a separate motorcycle. They were on Laney-Walker Boulevard, about to merge onto Interstate 520 about 10 p.m. when Gray pulled over to remove a bug from his eye.

Collins testified that he pulled over and began to walk toward Gray when he heard the roar of a car heading toward them from the traffic light at East Boundary. Collins was just feet away from Gray when he realized the impact was inevitable.

Collins dropped to the ground and covered his head seconds before the crash that he said sounded like a bomb. He lifted his head and saw that the motorcycle and Gray were gone. Behind him, a green Ford Mustang rolled to a stop near the interstate underpass.

Investigators later determined that the impact threw the 500-pound motorcycle more than 170 feet. Gray, a 270-pound former drill sergeant, was thrown more than 90 feet. A medical pathologist said Thursday that the victim had a broken neck and severed leg.

Collins described his search for Gray in the high grass.

“I was shouting, ‘Jay, Jay!’ ” Collins testified.

Thinking Gray might be pinned under the car, Collins said, he ran over to the Mustang and found it empty. Passers-by helped in the search and were soon joined by Richmond County sheriff’s deputies.

The Mustang was registered to Wright, who lived in South Carolina. He surrendered to deputies in Richmond County about 2 a.m., Assistant District Attorney Parks White said in his opening statement.

“He drank, he drove and as a result, Sgt. 1st Class James Gray died,” White told jurors.

Wright was charged with two counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle: one for driving under the influence and the other for failing to stop and lend assistance or provide identifying information. He also faces misdemeanor charges of following too closely and driving with an open container.

Defense attorney Rodney Quesenberry used his opening statement to cast doubt on whether Gray had pulled fully out of the road and emphasized the area’s darkness.

“Regardless of whether there was a bug in his eye, Mr. Gray was in the lane of travel,” Quesenberry said. “(Wright) didn’t see what he hit.”

Testimony is expected to continue today.

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