Abigail Hinson went to see a movie with Grant Hoffman last summer, on the eve of her 17th birthday.
Her parents were on their way back from a beach vacation. Hinson had returned to Macon early.
Instead of taking Hinson straight home right after the movie as her father had instructed, Hoffman drove in the opposite direction on Zebulon Road, said Jeff Powers, an attorney representing the Hinson family.
About 11:50 p.m. July 23, the 19-year-old Hoffman’s 2008 Nissan Altima crashed about two miles north of the Interstate 475 interchange.
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Hoffman and Hinson were taken to a hospital, where Hinson died the next day.
Hoffman pleaded guilty Wednesday to reckless driving and vehicular homicide during a hearing in Bibb County Superior Court.
District Attorney David Cooke said Hoffman talked with authorities after the crash and said he thought he was going 65 or 70 mph when he lost control while trying to dodge a deer.
When police analyzed the car’s data recorder -- a black box similar to those in aircraft -- they found the car was traveling 88 mph when Hoffman lost control. The posted speed limit on that stretch of road is 45 mph.
The recorder also revealed that Hoffman didn’t apply the car’s brakes before or during the crash, Cooke said.
It had rained earlier on the night of the crash and the road was still damp, he said.
“Based upon the weather conditions at the time of the crash, visibility and road conditions, the defendant’s driving was legally reckless,” Cooke said. “His failure to drive the vehicle at the posted speed limit and instead drive it almost two times faster, at night on a dark, curvy, slick, two-lane road, was the direct cause of Ms. Hinson’s death.”
Hoffman was screened for alcohol and drugs after the crash, Cooke said, and results were negative.
‘THEY WANT HIM TO GET HELP’
Hinson was a rising high school senior at Macon’s Tattnall Square Academy. After graduation, it’s likely she would have gone to the University of Georgia where her sister is a student, Powers said during Wednesday’s hearing.
“This is a parent’s worst nightmare,” Powers said.
Hinson’s mother, a teacher, and father, an Episcopal priest, requested that Hoffman be sentenced to a type of meaningful rehabilitation instead of prison, he said.
“They want him to get his head screwed on straight.” Powers said. “They want him to get help.”
Judge Howard Simms sentenced Hoffman to seven years on probation as part of a joint plea bargain.
Although Hoffman was also sentenced to a stint in a detention center, he’ll be allowed to complete an inpatient psychiatric treatment program instead.
He also must complete a family violence intervention program and any treatment prescribed after a screening for drug and alcohol use.
As a special condition of his probation, Hoffman is barred from any driving infractions. If he violates a traffic law, his probation can be revoked.
Sentenced as a first offender, he won’t have a felony on his record if he successfully completes his sentence. But, if he violates the terms of his probation, he can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
As a provision of the plea deal, Hoffman can petition a judge to end his probation early, after five years.
Hoffman’s parents sat on the front row of the courtroom as the young man addressed the judge, apologizing for his actions.
“I’m just so sorry,” he said.
Hoffman’s father, Bob Hoffman, is Mercer University’s head basketball coach.
In sentencing Grant Hoffman, Simms told the young man he won’t truly understand his remorse until he’s a parent.
“What they have lost is incalculable,” Simms said of the Hinsons. “One day you will understand that.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.