Attorneys for 21-year-old Dustin Willis said Wednesday in Douglas County Superior Court that discussions of a plea had been ongoing, but because of the amount of discovery and circumstances in the case, there was still the possibility of the case to trial.
On Feb. 19, a Chevy Blazer overturned, ejecting and killing Cheyenne Sauls, a 16-year-old student at Villa Rica High School. Jason Lark was the driver of the vehicle and Willis was also in the SUV that had been taking the group to and from two area parties where drinking was allegedly present.
Willis 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 left the accident scene before police arrived.
“We have had lengthy discussions about a plea,” said Willis defense attorney Mike Miller. “This date was set up with that in mind. There is still the thought of going to trial, but we anticipate a decision soon.”
Depositions of witnesses in both the criminal case and in the civil cases that have resulted from the accident are ongoing, and Miller and attorney Steve Murin indicated that those depositions would likely be helpful in Willis making a decision on a possible plea or exercising his right to a trial.
Lark pleaded guilty in October. He was sentenced to 15 years on the three most serious charges, all to run concurrently. Under the deal, he must serve a minimum of seven years. He was also granted first-offender status, which means that if he serves his sentence successfully, he will have the felonies off his record. But should he do anything wrong again, he could be forced to serve an additional 31 years in jail.
Lark will also pay restitution, an amount that will be set after civil litigation is complete. He will also testify in other cases that are still pending in the incident.
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, along with Travis Platt 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. Former Chapel Hill Package Store owner, Rocky Patel, was charged Feb. 24 with two counts of furnishing alcohol to minors.
The Sauls family has filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that names both Lark and Willis among 13 other defendants.