SC man pleads, avoids prison in Maserati death

GREENVILLE, S.C. - A South Carolina man was placed on probation for three years after pleading guilty Monday to plowing his speeding Maserati through a house, killing a Greenville man.

After John Ludwig pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in the death of Frederic Bardsley, Circuit Judge James Williams also ordered the 37-year-old businessman to perform 500 hours of community service.

Bardsley, 62, was killed April 25 after Ludwig's Maserati hurtled nearly 800 yards through a field, launched off an embankment and plowed into the back of Bardsley's home. Bardsley's wife, who was upstairs, was unhurt.

Ludwig suffered minor injuries. His attorneys have said he lost control after swerving to miss several deer and that alcohol and drugs played no role in the crash.

Ludwig, who authorities say was driving more than 85 mph, was initially charged with murder, but a grand jury also indicted him with the lesser charge of reckless homicide. He faced up to 10 years in prison on that count, and the murder charge was dropped Monday as a condition of his plea.

Requesting the maximum sentence, Solicitor Bob Ariail said investigators had found that Ludwig was racing with a friend driving another car, passing the other driver in a blind curve, speeding several hundred yards toward Bardsley's home before even hitting the brakes on his sports car.

"He does not heed the warnings, any warnings, of law enforcement, courts, to slow his speed down," said Ariail, noting that Ludwig has been cited for 24 traffic violations since 1992, most of them for speeding. "He simply gave no thought to the risk and harm that he was creating to others for no apparent reason."

In court, Ludwig tearfully pleaded for his freedom, apologizing several times to the Bardsley family.

"I just want to say how deeply sorry I am, and I take full responsibility for my actions," Ludwig said.

Ludwig, once head of a multimillion-dollar technology consulting firm, has suffered since he was charged with murder, defense attorney Billy Wilkins told the judge. Forced to sell his company, Ludwig has also lost several properties to foreclosure, his visits with his children have been reduced to just minutes a week, and Ludwig has been on home confinement every night for six months, Wilkins said.

"Mr. Bardsley's death was indeed a terrible tragedy, but nothing we do will bring him back," Wilkins said.

More than half a dozen witnesses testified during Monday's hearing in Greenville, extolling Ludwig's numerous charitable acts, including donations to a home for abandoned children and work on behalf of disabled people.

The judge said he was impressed by that testimony, noting that Ludwig - who himself came from meager beginnings on a chicken farm in Lincoln County, Ga. - used his success to benefit others.

"He's admitted his guilt," Williams said. "It's evident to me that he has been very unselfish."

Bardsley's widow was not in court Monday. Pete Roe, an attorney for the family, said the Bardsleys were still grieving but did not specifically ask that Ludwig be sentenced to prison.

"The depth of our loss is immeasurable and beyond further expression," Roe said. "We expect that the judicial process to acknowledge the life that was taken and to hold Mr. Ludwig accountable for his actions."

The sentence of probation and community service does just that, Wilkins said.

"I always believed that, once the true story was told, that the public would understand that this was just a terrible tragedy, and what happened was certainly unintended consequences," Wilkins said. "He was punished, and he'll be on probation."

Ludwig refused to speak with reporters after the hearing. In a statement released several hours later, Ariail, the prosecutor, said he felt Ludwig should be in prison but did not fault Williams for the sentence he gave Ludwig.

"We were shocked at the sentence imposed," Ariail said. "I have no doubt he fairly and thoroughly considered the evidence and imposed the sentence he felt was correct."