The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld a 55-year prison sentence for a truck driver convicted in the death of six people at the Ooltewah exit of I-75.
Criminal Court Judge Don Poole had handed the sentence to 42-year-old Benjamin Scott Brewer following his conviction at trial.
He gave him 11 years on each of six vehicular homicide cases and ran five of the cases consecutively.
The range was 8-12 years for vehicular homicide.
Brewer, of London, Ky., was also sentenced to four years on each of four convictions of reckless aggravated assault involving four people who were injured in the 2015 crash. Those sentences are concurrent.
The appeals court, in a 23-page opinion, said, "At the sentencing hearing, the trial court thoroughly discussed the Sentencing Act prior to pronouncing Defendant’s sentence. The trial court explicitly went through the Wilkerson factors on the record. The trial court determined Defendant’s behavior indicated little or no regard for human life and no hesitation for committing a crime when the risk to human life was high.
"The trial court reviewed the facts from trial that showed Defendant plowed into nearly standstill traffic at around 80 miles per hour, killing six people and wounding several others. The trial court noted that Defendant’s reckless disregard for the lives of others could have led to even more deaths, because there were many cars stopped in construction traffic that evening.
"The trial court determined two of the consecutive sentencing factors pertained to Defendant: (1) that the sentence was necessary to protect the public from further serious criminal conduct; and (2) that it reasonably related to the severity of the offenses committed. In our assessment, the trial court’s determinations are supported by the record, and it did not err in sentencing Defendant to an effective sentence of 55 years at thirty percent."
Brewer has no prior criminal convictions so is a Range One Offender who is eligible for parole consideration after serving 30 percent of the sentence.
Brewer made a statement, saying he is remorseful and prays several times each day for the victims' families.
He said, "I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart. There are now words to express my sorrow."
Brewer, who has an eight-year-old daughter, said he prays for the families two or three times a day. He said he is especially remorseful for the two young girls who died along with their mother and grandmother in a car that caught fire.
He said of the families, "I hope they will accept my deepest apology."
Brewer said he has asked God for forgiveness, and he said he was responsible for taking the lives and inflicting injuries on others.
Judge Poole called it "an unbelievably horrible wreck" and said it was testified that Brewer was driving unsafely on I-75 in Georgia before entering Tennessee. He said there was a half-mile sight distance looking toward where a line of vehicles were stopped for a construction project.
He said Brewer did not apply the brakes at any point and left a 453-foot trail of "destruction."
Judge Poole said he read all of the numerous victim impact statements that were submitted.
Killed were well-known Cleveland musician Brian Gallaher and Dalton State assistant director of residential life Jason Ramos. Also killed were Tiffany Watts, her mother Sandra Anderson, and daughters Kelsie and Savannah.
A representative of state probation said Brewer has an active warrant from Wisconsin on a drug charge and a prior meth count in Kentucky that was dismissed.
He said he suffers from depression and anxiety. Brewer declined to answer questions relating to prior drug use based on advice of his attorneys.
He worked for seven years with a car dealership, then was in construction and drover for Ryder before joining Cool Runnings just prior to the deadly wreck.
District Attorney General Neal Pinkston had asked for consecutive sentences, while Jay Underwood of the public defender's office argued against any consecutive terms. He said it was "not an intentional act, but a reckless accident."
He said of Brewer, "He's never tried to hurt anybody."