Gerald Wright was convicted Friday of drunken driving and fatally striking a motorcyclist who had pulled over on Laney-Walker Boulevard.
In delivering the maximum prison sentence of 15 years, Superior Court Judge James Blanchard said Sgt. 1st Class James “Jay” Gray’s children were robbed of growing up with a father. Gray had joined the Army at age 18 and served a tour in Iraq in 2006.
“He served his country, then he was killed by a drunk driver,” Blanchard said. “They’ll never get to know him.”
Wright was convicted of vehicular homicide and of a lesser offense for failure to render aid, and was acquitted of following too closely. He was fined the maximum $200 for driving with an open container.
Friday’s verdict capped a two-day trial that showed that Wright, 38, of Jackson, began drinking early in the day of May 22, 2011, and shared two pitchers of beer with friends that evening. Gray, who was stationed at Fort Gordon, spent the day riding around Augusta on motorcycles with his friend Torrey Collins.
They were about to turn onto Interstate 520 from East Boundary about 10:45 p.m. when Gray pulled over to remove a bug from his eye. Collins said he saw a Mustang accelerate from the traffic light at East Boundary and head directly for Gray.
The crash, which Collins likened to a bomb explosion, threw the 500-pound motorcycle more than 170 feet. Gray, whose neck was broken and his leg severed, was found dead in the roadside’s tall grass.
In Friday’s closing statements, defense attorney Rodney Quesenberry sought to discredit Collins’ testimony and convince jurors that his client did not know he had hit a person before fleeing his disabled car.
He also questioned the validity of evidence pointing toward Wright’s intoxication and built a case suggesting that Gray stopped in the lane of travel and was responsible for the wreck.
Though the situation is deplorable, “to hold Mr. Wright responsible for homicide is just irrational,” Quesenberry said.
Assistant District Attorney Parks White carefully deconstructed those arguments, methodically going back over the evidence and testimony.
“This is a common-sense case,” White said. “You have all the evidence you need.”