Pembroke man Jack Barfield IV was found guilty on all charges Tuesday in the April 25, 2005 traffic deaths of Lanier Primary School teacher Ginger Reagin and her 5-year-old son Garrett.
Barfield, 20, was driving west on Highway 280 when his SUV swerved into the east-bound lane, striking Reagin’s car. Both she and her son were killed instantly, authorities said.
"The court finds you guilty of the offense of vehicular homicide in the first degree in the death of Ginger Reagin," Superior Court Judge A. Ronnie Rahn said as he read his verdict. "And count two, guilty of the offense of homicide by vehicle in the first degree in the death of Garrett Reagin."
In addition, Barfield was found guilty of serious injury by vehicle. The first three counts are all felonies. Count three came as a result of Barfield’s vehicle also striking James Mock’s SUV.
Mock sustained a broken shoulder blade, head injuries and eventually had to have his spleen removed.
During the bench trial, Barfield also was found guilty of speeding, speeding in a construction zone,
reckless driving, improper lane usage and failure to maintain lane, all which are misdemeanors.
His sentencing will take place in the next few weeks.
"This is a tragedy, there’s no doubt in my mind," Rahn said after reading his verdict. "Everybody has lost; nobody has won today."
In a statement released by the Barfield family, they sent their sympathies to the families of the victims.
"Our family would like to extend our deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to the family of Ginger and Garrett Reagin for their loss," the statement read. "We keep them in our thoughts and prayers each day and will for the rest of our lives. We also pray that James Mock recovers fully from the injuries he received in the accident."
The statement also said Barfield acknowledges the consequences he faces because of his actions.
"Our son, Jackie, made a poor decision on the morning of April 25, 2005 on his way to school. He was driving too fast, and he will live with the consequences of that for the rest of his life, as he should. Jackie has accepted responsibility for his actions on that day, and though we feel there was a malfunction in the steering system of the vehicle, speed was the biggest contributor to the accident. There is nothing Jackie and our family would not do to have the opportunity to reverse the events of April 25, 2005."
Lloyd Murray of Richmond Hill, Barfield’s attorney, argued the accident was a result of a mechanical failure. His case was centered around a missing bolt from the upper A-frame arm on the driver’s side front tire that caused Barfield to lose control of his white 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe. He said when Barfield mashed the brake pedal his front tire turned drastically to the left, causing him to lose control and veer into the oncoming lane of traffic.
The state claimed otherwise. District Attorney Tom Durden and Assistant D.A. Angel Blair argued there was no mechanical failure, only Barfield’s recklessness.
David Brown, who owns a private engineering practice in Atlanta and was one of two expert witness for the prosecution, said that he investigated the wreck files, reports and photos.
"That bolt was present," Brown said. "That bolt was removed after the wreck."
Brown said he concluded the bolt was on the vehicle at the time of the wreck because of the threading on the upper A-frame arm.
Brown said the threading wouldn’t have been there had the bolt worked loose. He also said the tire marks on the road were not consistent with the defense’s claims.
Defense expert Barry Riner of Jesup, a retired state trooper who now works in the business of collision reconstruction, said there was no way the bolt in question could have been attached to the A-frame arm at the time of the accident. He said pictures of where the bolt should have been showed evidence of wear and tear where the bolt eventually fell off.
As part of the defense’s case, Riner taped a reconstruction of the wreck on a closed course with the same type of vehicle as Barfield’s to show what the car would do without the bolt when the brake pedal was pressed.
He showed the video to the court and said it was clear the wreck wasn’t caused by human error.
"It was a component failure of the steering system that caused him to lose control and cross the center line," Riner said.
In the end, the judge said the speed of Barfield’s car – recorded by the car’s crash data reporter just before the deployment of his airbags – was an indication of recklessness. According to the CDR, or black box, Barfield was traveling at 81 m.p.h. three seconds before his car struck the Reagin’s.
After the verdict was read Garrett’s father, Stephen Reagin, said the past two years have been hard on the families of he and Ginger, his ex-wife at the time of the wreck.
"I’ve been terrified for the past almost two years now that he was going to get off," Reagin said. "It becomes a huge burden to the entire family. It’s everybody in this family. We’ve all shared in the pain and the burden of wondering what was going to happen for almost two years now, and now we finally get a little bit of relief. And once the sentence comes down that will be another part of it."
Reagin, who said he plans to pursue civil action against Barfield, said he will feel justice has been served after Barfield is sentenced. Reagin said a sentence of no less than five years in a detention center is appropriate.
"What (Barfield) did was foolish and rash, and inconceivable for reasonable people," he said. "He was a fairly young guy. But then again, if the message is sent to the children of this area that they can drive wildly and be held to relatively no consequences then you may see more of these things."
Murray said after the trial that an appeal could be forthcoming, depending on what happens at sentencing.
"We are going to appeal depending on sentencing imposed by the judge," Murray said. "We did all we could to prove the bolt wasn’t there but the judge didn’t see that."
Barfield was released on a $25,000 bond until sentencing, which is expected within the next few weeks pending a pre-sentencing investigation, but under conditions of the bond he cannot leave the state and cannot have contact with other parties involved in the case.