Crime

Trying to push a car after drinking, woman runs over best friend. Now she must tell her story.

Mother pleads for mercy for her daughter's best friend charged in her death

Laura Campbell, mother of Murray Nixon, pleaded for mercy for her daughter's best friend, Mary Elizabeth "MeMe" Wade Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016, during a Bibb County Superior Court hearing in which Wade pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in Nixon's
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Laura Campbell, mother of Murray Nixon, pleaded for mercy for her daughter's best friend, Mary Elizabeth "MeMe" Wade Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016, during a Bibb County Superior Court hearing in which Wade pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in Nixon's

Best friends Murray Nixon and Mary Elizabeth “MeMe” Wade were excited to catch up during Christmas break.

After graduating from Macon’s Stratford Academy that spring, Nixon had gone to Georgia Southern University. Wade went to the University of Georgia.

The lifelong friends had stayed close, some would say closer than sisters.

Three days before Christmas 2015, the two 18-year-olds had dinner, went to a movie and drove around looking at Christmas lights. They also drank alcohol, although they were underage.

At about 3:30 a.m., the women turned off Foster Road in north Macon and into the parking lot at Emmanuel Baptist Church to get out of the rain.

The 2009 BMW 325i got stuck in a patch of grass and mud. The women took turns trying to push it out while the other was at the wheel.

On the last attempt, Wade shifted the car into neutral and took her foot off the brake. The car slid backward, running over Nixon and killing her.

Police later found Bud Light raspberry margarita cans around the car and an empty box for the drinks in the trunk.

Wade pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and driving under the influence Wednesday.

In sentencing her, Bibb County Superior Court Judge Howard Simms said if the women had called someone for help, someone would have come to help pull the car out of the mud.

He said he suspected the women didn’t call for help because they were afraid someone would get mad.

Wade replied, “Yes, sir.”

Thinking back on other vehicular homicide cases, Simms said he doesn’t know of any with similar circumstances.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that was more preventable,” the judge said, “and somebody died for that.”

‘They loved each other so much’

The judge said Nixon’s mother’s emotional plea for mercy on Wade’s behalf was a factor in his decision not to sentence her to prison as District Attorney David Cooke had requested.

Instead, Simms ordered Wade to serve a three-year suspended prison sentence on the condition that she must tell her story to children and her peers as a form of community service. If she fails to comply with the condition, she could be sent to prison.

Wade also must serve 24 hours in jail, seven years on probation and pay an $800 fine.

She was sentenced as a first offender, meaning if she successfully completes her sentence she won’t have a felony record.

Laura Campbell, Nixon’s mother, tearfully talked about her pain and how close her daughter was to Wade. She said her family didn’t want Wade to be prosecuted.

“They loved each other so much,” Campbell said.

If her daughter was standing with her, Campbell said, “she would want you to know how much she loves MeMe and there’s no way I could consider … this anything but an accident.”

Looking through her daughter’s room in the past year, Campbell said she found notes exchanged between the two friends.

They talked about their futures, growing up and meeting husbands and living on the same street, raising children together as their mothers had, she said.

“Our families go back many generations,” Campbell said, explaining that she and Wade’s mother had been best friends, and the mothers’ fathers and grandparents also had been best friends. “If I had it my way, we’d all be sitting on the same side of the room.”

‘I am so sorry’

On that morning, Dec. 22, 2015, a Bibb County sheriff’s deputy smelled alcohol as he talked with Wade outside the church where her car had become stranded and her friend lay dead underneath it at the bottom of a hill.

Wade was taken to a local hospital where blood was drawn and later tested. Although she denied having been drinking, the test showed her blood alcohol level was .125, more than one and a half times the legal limit for someone 21 or older to drive, Cooke said during the hearing.

Nixon’s autopsy showed her blood alcohol level was .184, he said.

During the investigation, police found a receipt for the alcohol from just before 11 p.m. from a convenience store on Forsyth Road.

A friend who was with Wade and Nixon, but who was dropped off before they arrived at the church, has told authorities Wade had a fake ID, Cooke said.

In determining what sentence to recommend, Cooke said his office considered two cases prosecutors felt were similar to Wade’s:

In 2008, 19-year-old Kelly Hill, of Bonaire, was killed in a crash on Interstate 475 when a car driven by then-19-year-old Edgar Zaldua went off the road. Cooke said Zaldua’s blood alcohol level was less than half of Wade’s. Zaldua was sentenced to 10 years, five of them in prison.

Also in 2008, 34-year-old Jason Dwayne Lineberger died after being ejected from a Jeep driven by his friend, then-28-year-old Tod Chandler Freeman II, on Interstate 475.

Freeman, whose blood alcohol was measured at .194, had been trying to pass several vehicles and struck the back of a tractor trailer. He was sentenced to 15 years, four of them in prison.

Cooke said prosecutors also considered the risk posed to other drivers and their passengers on the road on the night and early morning when Wade was driving.

He asked Simms to sentence Wade to at least three years in prison and seven years on probation.

In asking the judge for a probation sentence, Wade’s lawyer, Keith Fitzgerald, said he’s asked his client why she put the car into neutral as she and Nixon tried to push it free.

He said she responded that they’d tried pushing while the car was in drive and reverse and the car was still stuck.

Asked if she’d do the same thing if she hadn’t been drinking, Wade replied that she would, Fitzgerald said.

An Athens mental health worker who’s been treating Wade for post-traumatic stress disorder since September said Wade is troubled that she can’t remember much of what happened leading up to Nixon’s death.

She said Wade suffers from nightmares nightly and has had suicidal thoughts.

Speaking before she was sentenced, Wade apologized to her family and to Nixon’s, saying, “I am so sorry.”

As she was handcuffed to be taken to the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center for her 24-hour jail term, Wade mouthed across the room to Nixon’s mother, “Thank you. I love you so much.”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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