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December 9, 2003

20-year-old involved in death of man in drunk driving incident sentenced to boot camp, probation

From: Daily Home Online, AL - Dec 9, 2003

By Chris Norwood

TALLADEGA — The family and friends of the late Brack Gilliam expressed shock and disappointment Monday morning as the 20-year-old Kentucky resident involved in a drunk driving incident that took Gilliam's life was sentenced to boot camp and probation.

Michael Todd Lewis of Louisville was sentenced by Coosa County Circuit Judge Robert Teel to three years, the longest sentence possible under Alabama's Youthful Offender Act, for manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Teel added, however, that if Lewis successfully completes the six-month boot camp program, the balance of his sentence will be served on probation rather than in prison. The sentences on both counts are to run concurrent.

Teel had previously granted a motion to try Lewis as a youthful offender. Lewis was 19 at the time of the incident.

Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens had filed a motion asking Teel to reconsider the youthful offender ruling, which he did not do. He did, however, rule that Lewis should pay restitution to Gilliam's family, and did not grant a motion from defense attorney Robert Rumsey asking that implementation of his client's sentence be delayed one week so he could return to Kentucky to finish his final exams.

Instead, Teel ordered Lewis turned over to the custody of the Talladega County Sheriff's Department, pending a boot camp placement.

The amount of restitution was left open Monday.

Teel also allowed Sammy Gilliam, the son of the victim, to address the court before sentence was imposed.

"I was taught that our court system was for the protection of our citizens," he read. "The courts would try to keep the innocent from suffering by imposing punishment on the people who commit crimes. ... Mr. Lewis has been able to continue his life as normal. The only punishment he has endured has been a few hours in jail and a hangover. While Mr. Lewis was sitting in jail trying to sleep off a drunk, we were trying to understand why such a terrible thing could happen to such a good man. The wrong people have suffered. Probation is not an acceptable punishment for what Mr. Lewis has done.

"Mr. Lewis took from us something that cannot be replaced," he concluded, "something that is forever. To impose anything less than the maximum sentence would be a terrible disservice to my father, and an abomination of our justice system."

Other family members pointed out that Lewis exhibited no remorse, and made no effort to apologize to them.

Giddens, who expressed admiration for Sammy Gilliam's statement, shared the family's frustration. "This is very disappointing to everyone involved, I know. We opposed youthful offender status, and we opposed any kind of leniency, but we were just not heard," he told the family following the hearing. "I had nothing to do with appointing this judge. That was done by the presiding circuit judge for this county, Jerry Fielding."

Fielding was initially assigned to hear the case.

"Right now, we have no appeals, we have no recourse," Sammy Gilliam said Monday evening. "We had considered a civil suit from the beginning, and we're still thinking about that, but we haven't made a decision yet."

Several family members also expressed dismay that Teel appeared to be reading the sentence from a prepared paper, and made no reference to the state's motion to reconsider or Sammy Gilliam's statement in imposing sentence.

"It just seems like it was a done deal from the beginning," Sammy Gilliam said. "It just feels like being punched, over and over and over again."

In addition to Gilliam's family and a wide swath of Talladega's deaf community, the sentencing hearing was also attended by Peggy Batey, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Alabama.

Batey said she was present at the request of the family, and that she and MADD's Victim Services coordinator routinely monitor courts handling drunk driving cases.

"There are deterrents in the community," she said, "promoting the dangers of drunk driving, and getting the community involved in changing the way DUI offenders are viewed," she said.

Lewis rear-ended Gilliam's vehicle at a high rate of speed one year ago Sunday. Gilliam, who was turning into his driveway on Alabama 21 just south of Talladega at the time, was killed instantly.

Lewis did not stop following the accident, and continued driving for some 20 miles, until he was stopped and arrested by the Sylacauga Police Department. When hospitalized in Talladega, he had a blood alcohol level of 0.221, which is almost triple the legal limit in Alabama for an adult and more than 11 times the legal limit for someone under the age of 21.

Gilliam was a graduate of Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega. After earning a degree from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a school for the hearing impaired, Gilliam eventually returned to Talladega to work as an instructor and production manager for the E.H. Gentry Vocational School at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. He had retired from AIDB after 27 years of service shortly before his death.

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