BY KEN LITTLE
Marcus W. Strong, 34, formerly of Chuckey Pike, was sentenced Thursday to an effective prison term of 20 years at 30 percent release eligibility after pleading guilty in Greene County Criminal Court to aggravated vehicular homicide and drug charges.
The drug charges were filed while he was an inmate in the county jail.
Strong was the driver in a crash on July 19, 2012, that killed passenger Kiley Ricker Shelton. The repeat driving-under-the-influence offender was sentenced by Judge John F. Dugger Jr.
The 1989 Ford Mustang he was driving at a high rate of speed slammed into a utility pole on Chuckey Pike near Williamson Road, ejecting Shelton, 33, of Afton.
Strong was scheduled to go on trial Jan. 27 on the crash-related charges. He decided to enter guilty pleas instead, Assistant District Attorney General Cecil Mills Jr. said.
Strong had no comment at sentencing.
Shelton's mother, Debby Drinkard, was not present in court but signed off on the plea agreement, Mills said.
6 DUI CONVICTIONS
Strong has six previous DUI convictions and was also charged with vehicular homicide, DUI and DUI-seventh offense. Those charges were merged into the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction.
He received a sentence of 18 years at 30 percent release eligibility on the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction. The sentencing range for the offense is 15 to 25 years.
Strong also was convicted of violation of the Habitual Motor Vehicle Offender law.
He was designated a Habitual Motor Vehicle Offender in 2006. He received a one-year sentence on the violation conviction, to run concurrently with the aggravated vehicular homicide sentence.
Strong also entered guilty pleas to two counts each of criminal conspiracy to introduce drugs into a penal institution and criminal conspiracy to sell or deliver a controlled substance.
He was sentenced to an effective two-year jail term by Dugger on the four counts, added to the 18-year sentence.
Strong, wearing orange Greene County jail overalls, stood facing Dugger during sentencing with his lawyer, Curt Collins.
He entered an Alford plea to the charges against him. In entering an Alford plea, Strong did not admit to the allegations but acknowledged to Dugger there was sufficient evidence to convict.
"You think you're guilty?" Dugger asked Strong.
"Yes, sir," he responded.
The posted speed limit where the wreck occurred is 30 mph.
A Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper who investigated the wreck said in a report that the car driven by Strong was northbound when it came around a curve on Chuckey Pike and ran off the right side of the road before overcorrecting.
The car traveled back across the road and went off an embankment, where it struck the utility pole head-on.
Neither Shelton nor Strong was wearing a seat belt. The car flipped several times and Shelton was ejected. Her body came to rest on power lines above the ground near the crash scene.
Shelton, the mother of three young daughters, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Strong was fined a total of $7,000 on the habitual motor vehicle offender and drug conspiracy counts.
Dugger told Strong that 30 percent release eligibility offers no guarantee he will only serve 30 percent of his sentence with the state Department of Correction.
The victim's family could oppose parole, as could law enforcement or prosecutors, the judge said.
Had Strong gone to trial, Mills said a doctor would have testified that Strong's estimated blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was .09 percent, above the .08 percent state threshold for impaired driving.
Drugs were also found in Strong's system, including Lorazepam, Clonazepam and Dihydrocodeine, Mills said.
"This brings some closure to the family," Mills said after sentencing.
"Any time you have any type of tragic event such as this where death occurs, or a mother has a daughter, or three children lose a mother, it's really hard to talk about any (sentence) being satisfactory, but the plea was within the range set by the legislature."
Strong was indicted on the drug-related counts in November.
Strong's parents, 67-year-old Carl E. Strong and 62-year-old Wilma Lee Strong, were also indicted on two counts each of criminal conspiracy to introduce drugs into a penal facility, and criminal conspiracy to sell or deliver a controlled substance.
The drug-related offenses committed by Marcus Strong happened in 2012 and 2013, while he was an inmate in the county jail.
Prosecutors said that Strong used his parents to assist in obtaining drugs in jail.
Three correction officers at the Greene County Detention Center were fired or resigned in 2013 in connection with the case.
Two others connected to the case have been indicted on charges of bribery of a public servant.
The cases of Carl Strong and Wilma Strong are pending.