Laurens County (The Greenville News) - The handcuffs were clasped around Jason Phillip Smith's wrists Monday before the judge finished reading the sentence.
On Friday, Smith had quit his job as an air-and-heating system repairman in preparation for his day in Laurens County court, where on Monday he pleaded guilty to charges that he crashed his car after a night of drinking nearly two years ago at a Lake Greenwood bar and left his passenger, 27-year-old Jennifer Young Norris, pinned beneath the wreckage without calling anyone to help.
On Monday, wearing an open-collared Oxford white dress shirt, the 34-year-old Greenwood man walked into the courtroom through the front doors where free people come and go, and left through a side door, escorted by men with badges, to begin the seven-year sentence Circuit Judge Wyatt Saunders imposed after Smith accepted a plea deal with the Eighth Circuit Solicitor's Office.
"How could he leave my daughter without a phone call?" Norris' stepfather, Jack Duckett, asked the judge. "He still left her dying, knowing she had three kids at home. He'll spend a few piddly years in the pen. She's worth more than that."
At about 7 a.m. on Sept. 6, 2006, nearly three hours after Smith crashed, Norris was found crushed beneath an overturned car on Lake Forest Road, Assistant Solicitor Ron Flemming said. At first, authorities didn't know who Norris was nor that Smith was the driver . Smith, who has a previous conviction for DUI, was arrested ten hours later at the hospital.
Earlier in the morning, Smith and Norris left Rumor's Bar & Grill near Lake Greenwood in Smith's car, Flemming said. Norris' mother, Pamela George, was at the bar and tried to discourage her daughter from riding with Smith, but the two left and she witnessed Smith driving recklessly out of the parking lot, Flemming said. Before ending up at Rumor's, Smith had drank several orange- juice-and-vodka drinks and had been taken home because he was too drunk to drive, Flemming said.
After the crash, Smith called his sister and had her take him to the hospital, Flemming said.
Smith's attorney, Dan Farnsworth, told the judge that Smith was crawling around on the ground after the crash and that his cell phone was broken. Farnsworth told the judge that Smith, since being released on bond in July 2007 after ten months in jail, had been a model employee at a heating-and-air system repair company -- so much so that the company's management said it will give him his job back upon his release.
Smith "practically raised himself," having to drop out of high school to work to support a sick mother without a father to help, his aunt, Kay Crews, told the judge.
"God has forgiven Jason," Crews said. "He's a fine young man. Jason has cried many times and talked to me many times."
Farnsworth said that Smith had wanted to apologize to the family but has not been allowed to contact them.
Smith did not speak, except to acknowledge he was pleading guilty.
Norris' mother told the judge that Norris was her first-born daughter and showed him pictures of Norris with her three children. "They will never know their mother because of his selfish actions," George told the judge. "There's no words to say how much he has destroyed this family."
Smith will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence.
By Eric Connor, The Greenville News