At a status hearing before Superior Court Judge Robert J. James, attorneys for Jason Lark and Dustin Willis both said negotiations are ongoing, but anticipate a resolution to the charges that include vehicular homicide.
On Feb. 19, Lark, 17 at the time of the incident, was driving a vehicle filled with a group of people who had been to two area parties where underage drinking was present. The Chevy Blazer overturned, ejecting and killing Cheyenne Sauls, a 16-year-old student at Villa Rica High School. Lark was also charged with driving under the influence following the crash.
“We do anticipate a guilty plea, your honor,” said Bryan Howard, a Carrollton attorney who represents Lark. “We have had extensive discussion with Mr. McDade as well as the family of the victim in this case and I feel like we have made significant progress toward bringing this to a satisfactory resolution for all parties involved without the need for a trial.”
Willis, 21, was in the car at the time of the accident and allegedly attempted to destroy evidence, allegedly working with Lark to get rid of beer bottles from the vehicle. He is charged with tampering, being party to a crime (vehicular homicide), and four counts each of furnishing alcohol to minors and contributing to the delinquency of minors. Willis fled the accident scene before police arrived.
Just two days after what would have been Cheyenne Sauls’ 17th birthday, her parents listened from the jury box during the proceedings, but left the building without comment. Douglas County District Attorney David McDade confirmed that discussions were under way and said it will take some time to finalize details.
“Today’s hearing signified that we were ready for trial, but their attorneys and these young men said that they wanted to resolve this without the pain of a trial,” McDade said. “We haven’t agreed on a sentence and haven’t settled on anything and there is no typical penalty in a case like this.
“In Mr. Lark’s case, here is a young man with a lot of issues that have been well documented. On her death he is facing from one to 15 years. But with a plea we hope that this can be the beginning of some closure for the parents and family knowing that there won’t be a trial.”
No timeline was give for a possible resolution.
McDade confirmed that there are others facing charges in state court in this case. Richard Todd McAllister, 42, whose home at 4241 Sterling Pointe Drive was the site of a Feb. 18 bonfire party, was charged with five counts of contributing to the delinquency of minors. His son, Justin McAllister, 16, along with Travis Platt, 18, were charged with furnishing alcohol to minors and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Sherman Bennett is accused of buying alcohol and permitting it to be consumed at a party at his Biscayne Way home. Chapel Hill Package Store owner Rocky Patel was charged Feb. 24 with two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors.
“Right now those cases are in State Court — examining the facts and determining whether the evidence points in one direction or another,” McDade said.
Attorney Mac Pilgrim represents the Sauls family in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that names both Lark and Willis among 13 other defendants. He said that the family does plan to speak at the sentencing and said that Wednesday’s news was a good thing for the civil litigation.
“Whenever this plea happens and this case closes, then it opens them up for depositions in the civil case which is vital to discovery in our suit,” Pilgrim said. “Until that is done, deposing them would be useless because they could use the Fifth Amendment because anything they say could have been used against them. But once it is settled, that doesn’t apply. So this development is a good thing and should allow us to move forward. But we are still looking at possibly as long as two years before we ever see court on the civil suit.”