Prosecutors close to decision in Central student’s traffic death

awomack@macon.comOctober 13, 2013 

Fatal_Wreck

Harriett Finney, 17, was killed in a car wreck on Forsyth Road in Macon on Jan. 10. Prosecutors are deciding whether to press charges in the incident.

WOODY MARSHALL/THE TELEGRAPH — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

On a cool morning early this year, 17-year-old Harriett Finney was riding in a car as her father drove her to school from their north Macon home.

But Finney, a baritone horn player in the Central High School marching band, didn’t make it there Jan. 10.

While her father was headed south on Forsyth Road toward downtown Macon, his 1992 Mazda Protege and a northbound 2000 Toyota 4-Runner driven by 17-year-old Claire Patton, a student at First Presbyterian Day School, collided near Tucker Road. Finney died soon after the crash.

At the time, Patton was traveling in the left turn lane on Forsyth Road, authorities said. Witnesses told The Telegraph they saw her SUV turn left at Tucker Road.

The Georgia State Patrol’s investigation took more than eight months. In late September, troopers submitted their findings to the State Court solicitor’s office in Bibb County for review.

Solicitor Rebecca Grist said it could take several more weeks before her office decides whether to file criminal charges in the case.

In order for prosecutors to file a second-degree vehicular homicide charge, they must find that a driver committed a traffic offense that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that the offense caused Finney’s death, Grist said.

Second-degree vehicular homicide carries a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail.

The solicitor’s office -- not the district attorney’s office -- is handling the case because the crash didn’t involve one of five factors required in a felony prosecution: DUI, reckless driving, illegally passing a school bus, leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, or fleeing and eluding police.

Initially, the state patrol would not release its findings in the crash investigation. A crash report released Friday afternoon, though, noted that neither driver was distracted, that both drivers had a green light, and that in the judgment of the investigating officer, Patton failed to yield the right of way.

Contacted this week, Patton’s family referred comment to attorney Duke Groover. He said the Pattons are praying for the Finney family during their time of loss.

While he wouldn’t discuss details of the crash, Groover said, “Claire maintains she had the right of way.”

Patton and her passenger, her younger brother, were treated for minor injuries after the wreck.

The Finney family referred comment to lawyer Zack Dozier.

“Mr. Finney had the right of way,” Dozier said. “All of the witnesses and evidence we know anything about support that position.”

Both of 60-year-old Harold Finney’s legs were crushed, and he had fractured ribs. He has undergone multiple operations on his legs and hip along with extensive therapy and rehabilitation, Dozier said.

“He’s still in recovery and may have to have another operation on his hip,” Dozier said. “He’s reached the point where he can get out some, but he still hurts every day.”

Dozier said the past few months have been hard for the Finney family, but with prayer and help from friends, family and church members, they’re trying to come to terms with losing their daughter.

“She was a very outgoing, caring person. She was a good girl,” he said.

Finney, who would have turned 18 this month, was active in her church and loved children.

She was looking forward to her senior year in high school and was making plans for college.

“She loved life and everybody loved her,” Dozier said.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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