CONYERS - A man charged with homicide by vehicle in what District Attorney Richard Read termed a "terrible and tragic event," will spend the next 10 years under supervision of the court.
Superior Court Judge David Irwin ordered Joseph Nathaniel Pitts to serve 10 years on probation, pay a $2,500 fine and perform 240 hours of community service on charges of first-degree homicide by vehicle, reckless driving, speeding and failing to maintain lane after accepting his guilty plea Friday morning.
Pitts, 27, was charged as a result of a wreck that occurred Sept. 27, 2005 while he was traveling eastbound on Interstate 20. Brett David Wasendorf died as a result of the wreck.
The two men, who were best friends, roommates and co-workers at the Newton County Sheriff's Office, were returning from an Atlanta Braves game when the Toyota Tacoma Pitts was driving clipped the front of another vehicle as he was changing lanes.
Despite the fact both men were wearing their seat belts, Wasendorf, 21, was thrown from the vehicle. He was transported to the Rockdale Medical Center the night of the incident, where he was pronounced dead.
While a blood test did reveal some alcohol in Pitts' system, it was far below the level for intoxication, and investigators concluded alcohol was not a contributing factor in the wreck.
Defense attorney Hyrum Pierce told Irwin he had never seen anyone who had accepted the level of guilt Pitts had.
"The prison of guilt he has built for himself will go with him to his grave," Pierce said. "The truth is, the seat belt failed or Brett Wasendorf would be here today."
Pierce urged the judge to consider a sentence that did not include any incarceration but that would stress community service to allow Pitts to talk to young people.
"If there is any good that can come out of this tragic event, it would be that he could speak to young people and maybe keep this from happening to one of them," Pierce said.
Wasendorf's father also testified that placing Pitts in jail would serve no purpose.
Prior to being sentenced, Pitts said he was "solely responsible" and that he struggled to live with the incident each day.
"There is no unit for the measure of pain and suffering I've caused, and there are no words to describe how I feel," he said.
The district attorney initially asked for one year in jail as part of the sentence. The judge took a short break to consider the appropriate sentence.
"This is an extremely difficult matter and I've changed my mind 100 times today as to what to do," Irwin told Pitts. "The guilt you feel is something you will have to deal with. This was very unfortunate, but it happened; but no one wants this to control you for the rest of your life. Don't let your guilt override your purpose in life because there is still good you can do."
Although alcohol was not considered a contributing factor in the incident, Pitts, who was allowed to plea as a first offender, was also ordered to consume no alcohol for the duration of the probation.
Ric Latarski can be reached at email@example.com.