Woman gets prison for fatal 2006 wreck

One of two women charged in a 2006 wreck that killed two people and an unborn child was sentenced Friday to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Tiara Maria Smith, 21, of Augusta, pleaded guilty in a Columbia County courtroom to two counts of murder, feticide, two counts of serious injury by vehicle and fleeing and attempting to elude police as part of a negotiated plea agreement with the district attorney's office.

Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale sentenced Ms. Smith to life in prison for the murder and feticide charges, plus 10 years on the remaining charges.

"Yes, I did take my life for granted, and because I did that, others lost their lives," Ms. Smith said after receiving her sentence.

A felony shoplifting charge, two counts of cruelty to children and six traffic charges were dropped as part of the agreement.

Police say Ms. Smith and co-defendant Nebula McNeely were evading police after shoplifting from the Marshall's store in Mullins Crossing shopping center June 4, 2006. While trying to flee, Ms. Smith drove her Ford Explorer through a red light at the Washington Road intersection of Bobby Jones Expressway, striking a Chrysler Cirrus.

Margaret Patricia Branton, 63, and her son, Lonnie D. Turner, 37, both of Martinez, were killed instantly.

Mr. Turner's pregnant wife, Mary, was in the backseat with the couple's 4-year-old son. Mrs. Turner's baby died as a result of the wreck, but her son received only minor injuries.

"I can't tell you how this has changed my life," said John Branton, Mrs. Branton's husband, who filed a wrongful death civil suit against the two women weeks after the wreck. "I'm just devastated by it."

Ms. Smith's plea agreement requires her to testify against Ms. McNeely, whose case is scheduled to go before a judge Oct. 15.

John Turner, a brother of Mr. Turner and son of Mrs. Branton, also spoke to the judge at Ms. Smith's sentencing. He said that within three months of the wreck that killed his brother and mother, his father died and another brother had a stroke.

"It has turned my whole family upside down," Mr. Turner said. "It took my whole family from me."

Judge Wheale requested that statements from Mr. Branton and Mr. Turner be forwarded to the parole board that might consider Ms. Smith's early release from prison in 14 to 30 years.

"I want them to read what happened to you and your family," Judge Wheale said.

Reach Valerie Rowell at 868-1222, ext. 110, or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.