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Georgia Supreme Court hears Clayton case

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The Georgia Supreme Court heard a Clayton County case Monday involving a 2006 car crash that killed a 67-year-old Fayetteville man.

James Oliver died Jan. 20, 2006 after then-17-year-old Danielle Keisha Nicole Taylor's vehicle collided with his car, which was stopped at a traffic light, according to court records.

At issue is whether the court should let stand a conviction on a charge of serious injury by vehicle in the case.

The 2006 accident occurred at Tara Boulevard and Flint River Road.

Just prior to crashing into Oliver's Oldsmobile, Taylor had blown a tire on Interstate 75 southbound, exited onto Tara Boulevard, and traveled at speeds of 60 to 80 mph down Tara Boulevard on the three remaining tires, court records state.

On Feb. 22, 2008, a Clayton County jury acquitted Taylor of vehicular homicide, but found her guilty of reckless driving, involuntary manslaughter, serious injury by vehicle, driving a vehicle with unsafe equipment, and failure to maintain a lane. Taylor was sentenced to 15 years, to serve five years in custody, according to court records.

Taylor has been in the Clayton County Jail since the conviction, according to her attorney, B.J. Bernstein.

On Jan. 6, 2009, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the involuntary manslaughter conviction, but upheld the remaining charges, and sent the case back to the trial court for re-sentencing, according to Jane Hansen, public information officer for the Georgia Supreme Court.

Monday, Bernstein argued before the Georgia Supreme Court that Taylor's conviction on the charge of serious injury by vehicle should also be thrown out.

"It's not the statute used when someone dies," Bernstein said in a phone interview Monday. "When someone dies, you prosecute with vehicular homicide, and the jury found her not guilty of vehicular homicide."

Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Dixon argued before the court Monday on behalf of the state.

"B.J. Bernstein was saying that because he [Oliver] died, she [Taylor] could not be convicted of serious injury by vehicle," Dixon said later.

"The victim in this case didn't survive long, but it was long enough, I argued, that he suffered the injury. It was just a matter of minutes, but from the state's perspective, it doesn't matter," he said. "Even if he lived a couple minutes, his suffering was incredible."

Oliver suffered a fractured spine and lacerated aorta, resulting in his death, according to court records.

The Georgia Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the case sometime this fall, according to Bernstein.