Tam Duc Le, the teenager charged with three counts of vehicular homicide for the March 21, 2007 deaths of three North Bryan teens, was sentenced to 30 years with four-and-a-half to serve in state prison after pleading guilty in Bryan County Superior Court Wednesday.
The remainder of the 30 years is to be served on probation, according to Superior Court Judge Paul Rose.Le, 19, pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges Wednesday morning: three counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of reckless driving, and one count each of driving to fast for condition (the curb) and failure to maintain lane. Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Maxwell testified that the car being driven by Le was going an estimated 74 to 90 mph around Warnell Curve on Hwy. 119 near Old Patrick School Road and slid into a pickup stopped nearby.
"Based on the amount of damage to the car, victims and overall, the speed was near 90 mph," Maxwell said.
One witness to the speed of the car that day was Angela Manton, who testified she called 911 to report the car was speeding and being driven recklessly after she dropped her children at school.
"I could see in the car," Manton said. "The passenger and driver were laughing and cutting up. The car was starting and stopping, weaving and driving fast."
The driver of the truck Le collided with, Robin Wilkes, said as she was slowing down to approach the curve she noticed the little red car coming the opposite direction at a high rate of speed and knew they were going to wreck, so she started slowing down even more.
"I was screaming, please slow down, please slow down," Wilkes cried.
After the crash, "I looked at the vehicle and couldn’t see anyone except one of the girls, who was limp," she said.
The teens, Melissa and Heather Arthur and Laura Cobb, were classmates of Le’s at Bryan County High School.
The car Le was driving, a red 1995 Chevy Cavalier, belonged to Cobb, according to testimony at Wednesday’s hearing.
Derik Arthur, father of Melissa and Heather, testified that when he closes his eyes he imagines his children screaming, something neither he nor his family will ever get over.
"The funeral home said it was too bad for an open casket," Arthur said. "We never got a chance to see them and really say goodbye. We could only say goodbye to a closed casket."
"They were loving, caring, funny. I’ll never have a day where I’ll be as happy as I was the day before (the accident)," he said.
Brenda France, the grandmother of Heather and Melissa, said she not only lost her two grandchildren, but she was slowly losing her daughter (the girls’ mother) and her husband as well.
"Nobody will ever understand what this has done to our family," France said.
Sherry Arthur, Heather and Melissa’s mother, testified all she ever wanted to be was a mother and had the girls’ names picked out since she was three.
"It just kills everything inside you," Arthur said. "How do you cope? They keep saying it will get better, but it doesn’t. I go to bed every night knowing I’ll wake up and they still won’t be there."
Laura Cobb’s grandmother, Terry Vangiller, with whom Cobb lived, said that last morning, Laura told her, ‘Grandma, goodbye. I love you. I’ll see you this afternoon.’
"I still have everything that belonged to her," Vangiller said.
Tam Duc Le's mother, Jennifer Le, testified of almost losing her son to injurie, and the anger he expressed after coming out a five-week coma and being told he survived the crash and the girls did not.
"He pulled all tubes out, had to be restrained and asked me ‘why did you let me live?" she said.
Le said he stayed in his room and has rarely left it since the accident, which Le confirmed in his testimony.
"I just felt guilty for living," he said. "I’m sad they had to go and I survived."
Le, who had been out of jail pending trial, left the courtroom Wednesday with Bryan County Sheriff’s Department deputies to begin the sentence.
The Arthur family was disappointed in the sentence, according to Melissa and Heather’s grandfather Jesse France.
"The judge did a little more than I thought he would," France said, but called the sentence "awful light."
"Three girls are dead," he said. "But I wouldn’t want to be in the judge’s position."