February 3, 2009
Tim Pratt -
STARKVILLE -- A Starkville man who admitted to driving under the influence -- in a wreck which killed his long-time friend last spring -- was sentenced Monday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court to 35 years in prison.
Judge Lee Howard, in front of a packed courtroom, sentenced 21-year-old Joshua Buckner to a combined 30 years in prison for three counts of aggravated DUI and five years for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death. Buckner won''t begin the 35-year term until he finishes a 15-year sentence he already is serving for identity theft.
Before Howard read his sentence, Buckner took the stand to ask for mercy and apologize to the families of the three victims. Buckner also gave the courtroom a glimpse into his mindset on the night of crash.
According to Buckner, he left a party during the early morning hours of April 26, 2008, with passengers Charlesy Collins, David Wilkerson Jr., and Joanna Morgan. He testified Monday he had been drinking, but decided to drive the group anyway in a quest to buy cigarettes.
As Buckner drove his Jeep down Coliseum Boulevard, near the Mississippi State University campus, Wilkerson warned him to slow down, Buckner said. But Buckner didn''t heed the advice and, on a sharp curve, crashed his vehicle into a light pole.
Immediately after the crash, Buckner exited his vehicle and asked two bystanders who had witnessed the crash not to call police, MSU Police Department Detective Don Bartlett testified Monday. Buckner then left the scene on foot, cut through a nearby wooded area and returned to the party, Bartlett said.
Back at the party, Buckner changed clothes and put mints in his mouth to disguise the smell of alcohol, Assistant District Attorney Frank Clark said. Buckner also confessed to fellow party-goers he had wrecked his vehicle, but made no mention of his injured friends, Clark said. He even planned to report his vehicle stolen to cover up his role in the crime, Clark said.
Meanwhile, Wilkerson and Morgan suffered serious injuries back at the crash site and Collins laid motionless inside the vehicle. Collins died a few hours later at Oktibbeha County Hospital.
Bartlett caught up with Buckner roughly two hours after the crash. A test of Buckner''s blood roughly three hours after the wreck showed a blood alcohol content reading of .11, Barlett testified.
On his decision to leave the scene after the crash, Buckner broke down in tears Monday when giving his explanation.
"I was just so scared," Buckner said. "I didn''t know how to react in a situation like that."
On her way out of the courtroom, Charlesy Collins'' mother, Lori Collins, said she wasn''t satisfied with Buckner''s 35-year sentence. He could have received up to 25 years for each of the three aggravated DUI counts.
"It''s not enough," Lori Collins said through teary eyes. "It could never be enough. Nothing can bring back my child."
Buckner and Charlesy Collins had been friends since the 6th grade, Buckner testified. They were in the same church youth group and were "inseparable" over a period of several years, he said.
In recent years, however, Buckner began to get into trouble with the law. His record shows multiple convictions on everything from driving under the influence and possession of alcohol by a minor to possession of marijuana and identity theft.
Among his traffic infractions, Buckner was caught driving well over the posted speed limit on several occasions, including one incident in which he was clocked at 112 miles per hour in a 70 mph zone.
Buckner only had been released from the state Department of Corrections'' Regimented Inmate Discipline program on the identity theft charge eight days prior to the April 26, 2008, accident.
"I have reviewed your record," Howard said to Buckner just before sentencing. "It is not a good record. ... What I am going to say, I hope you will listen to: There is no sentence that I can impose on you that will give Charlesy back or cure the injuries of two other people, but the sentence must be imposed. It''s got to be done."