Originally created 01/17/04

UGA student convicted of two lesser charges



A Clarke County Superior Court jury Friday found a University of Georgia student guilty of misdemeanor charges stemming from the death last year of a fraternity brother who fell from the defendant's moving pickup.

Brett Steele, 20, was found not guilty of the felony charge of first-degree homicide by vehicle in the death of Travis F. Starr III,a freshman from Martinez, for which he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Instead, the jury found him guilty of second-degree homicide by vehicle, a misdemeanor, and failure to report an accident. He could be ordered to serve as long as 12 months in prison, but Judge David Sweat adjourned the case Friday without scheduling a sentencing date.

Mr. Starr, 19, died April 25, three days after receiving head injuries in the fall. The prosecution had argued that Mr. Steele had been criminally negligent for not seeking immediate medical attention for Mr. Starr, who had been among a group of students Mr. Steele was driving home from a downtown Athens bar.

Mr. Starr's parents, Diane and Travis F. Starr Jr., had been in court for each of the three days of testimony, which concluded Thursday after Mr. Steele took the witness stand in his own defense. Although they remained in Athens, the Starrs were not in court for the reading of the verdict because it would have been too emotional for them, explained the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Matt Karzen.

Steven Ratley, Travis Starr's brother-in-law, said the guilty verdicts were "no victory" for the victim's family.

"There's no justice in this case," Mr. Ratley said. "We simply wanted to find out what happened to our brother and our son, and that's what we got from this trial. I believe the court system worked in this case."

Mr. Steele was driving home a group of students at about 2:15 a.m. after a night of drinking, and Mr. Starr fell from the defendant's pickup as it made a turn. Witnesses testified that Mr. Starr was drunk and had been standing up in the truck's bed.

After the fall, Mr. Starr was taken to his apartment, where he slept until being taken to St. Mary's Hospital about 20 hours later. He lapsed into a coma and died April 25 at University Hospital in Augusta.

When testifying Thursday, Mr. Steele said help had not been immediately sought because the only visible injuries to Mr. Starr had been scrapes to his arms, and the victim gave assurances that he was not badly hurt and did not require medical attention.