Man gets 12 months in fatality

Marshall Jordan Jr. faced as many as 10 years in prison on first-degree vehicular homicide charges, mainly because he had traces of marijuana in his system when a speeding, off-duty sheriff's deputy slammed into his logging trailer on Halloween night 2005.

A Burke County jury rejected that charge Tuesday, convicting Mr. Jordan of a second-degree offense because his truck was taking up all three lanes of traffic on the pitch-dark, rural highway and, as Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms said, Shane Ray Hamilton "never had a chance that night."

"It doesn't matter how fast he was going, because he couldn't see it," Mr. Syms told the jury.

Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale sentenced Mr. Jordan to a year in the Burke County jail, the maximum allowed for a misdemeanor. He could be out earlier for good behavior.

Mr. Hamilton, 31, had been a Richmond County Sheriff's Office road patrol deputy for a year and a half, according to his brother, Jason Hamilton. He was returning home that night along River Road, or Georgia Highway 56 Spur, in northern Burke County when he hit the logging truck on a straightaway about a third of a mile past Millers Pond Road.

Though his speedometer was found stopped at 103 mph, a Georgia State Patrol collision reconstruction expert testified that the deputy was more likely going 65 to 68 miles per hour in the 55 mph zone.

Mr. Hamilton left no skid marks, and examination of brake lights showed he never slowed, state patrol Cpl. Tommy Barron Jr. said. His Toyota Echo wedged under the log trailer and partially emerged on the other side.

The prosecution against Mr. Jordan was notable because it hinged on marijuana use by Mr. Jordan, even though there was little evidence he was intoxicated at the time of the wreck. Marijuana can linger in the body for two to three days for light users, or as long as a month for heavy users.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 1999, in Love vs. the State of Georgia, that use of drugs alone isn't enough to lodge a DUI charge, and first-degree vehicular homicide usually involves an impaired driver. The prosecution, however, asserted that a cloudy head made Mr. Jordan less safe on the road.

A log truck driver for 15 years, Mr. Jordan, 56, was ending his work day after delivering a load to International Paper. After taking a co-worker home, he approached his house from a different direction and had to make a difficult right turn into his driveway.

Mr. Jordan testified that he scraped a utility pole near his mailboxes, so he backed up and tried again. The maneuver had the rusty-colored trailer -- whose reflective markers and tapes were within state guidelines -- blocking the highway. After the fatal crash, a white pickup also hit the trailer, but the driver braked in time to avoid injury.

Mr. Jordan said under oath that he hasn't used marijuana since his 20s. His defense attorney said before sentencing that Mr. Jordan might have inhaled second-hand smoke at a club the weekend before the wreck.

Jason Hamilton, 30, said he wasn't happy with the 12-month sentence, considering his niece, 12, will grow up without a father.

"He should have got more," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.