By Daniel Silliman
She wanted to go home. She knew something was wrong, she later told police, but she wanted to go home, so she sped on. Ignoring the blown-out tire and the way the rim bounced, she gouged the asphalt of Tara Boulevard and crashed into the rear end of a gold-colored Oldsmobile.
Witnesses told police that Danielle Keisha Taylor, then 17, got out of her father's wrecked Mercedes S320, and was walking around, until she realized what had happened. When she realized she had killed a man, they said, she sat down.
The wreck killed 67-year-old James Oliver, a Fayette man who had recently retired from Reader's Digest.
A jury convicted Taylor of vehicular manslaughter on Tuesday and other accident-related charges. Clayton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards sentenced Taylor, now 19, to five years in prison, 10 years of probation and $1.5 million in restitution.
"The Court finds the defendant caused this death willfully," Edwards wrote in court documents, "by reckless driving, as the jury concluded."
According to information presented in court and court documents, Taylor was driving the 1995 Mercedes south on Tara Boulevard at speeds of 80 miles per hour, weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights. She had spent the morning at a doctor's appointment and had a doctor's note excusing her from school on the seat next to her. She told police she heard a noise and noticed the car was suddenly "difficult to steer," but she just wanted to get home.
Weaving and speeding, Taylor drove south from Interstate 75, nearly hitting several cars, according to the police report, and kept going for about five miles. At the intersection of Tara Boulevard and Flint River Road, she drove into Oliver's 1999 Oldsmobile.
The Oldsmobile crashed into the Honda in front of if, crossed the intersection and came to rest on the side of the road.
The 23-year-old Senoia woman driving the Honda said she was looking in the rearview mirror, watching the sparking and smoking Mercedes come barreling toward the stopped cars, but there was another car in front of her and nowhere she could go.
Oliver was pronounced dead at 12:38 p.m., at Southern Regional Medical Center. The jury, according to court documents, found that his death "was caused solely by the defendant's driving at speeds up to 80 miles per hour and running at least two red lights with no left front tire."
The jury found Taylor guilty of driving with defective equipment, reckless driving, improper lane change, vehicular manslaughter, and causing serious injury by vehicle. They found her not guilty of first-degree vehicular homicide and not guilty of following too close.
The Court found the amount of the full value of Oliver's life at $1.5 million. Since liability insurance and the Crime Victims Compensation Board have already paid Oliver's family $953,000, Taylor will be required to pay the remaining $547,000 in restitution.
The court has sentenced her to pay 20 percent of her adjusted gross income until she pays the rest of the restitution to Oliver's estate.