A Chattanooga man is going to prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to a 12-year vehicular homicide sentence for the 2016 death of a fellow motorist.
Jackie Nation, 48, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and driving under the influence in connection with a Nov. 11, 2016, crash in the 4600 block of Access Road that killed 29-year-old Meredith Lawler. Prosecutors said Nation swerved across the center line around 8 p.m., hitting Lawler's car head-on. Lawler, a mother of a nearly 2-year-old girl at the time, died from her injuries about a week later.
After Nation apologized to Lawler's family members, his attorney made a second statement.
"He just wanted to say how sorry he was," Chattanooga defense attorney Marty Levitt said to Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz. "There's no words that can heal the situation. If there were, he would be glad to do so. He got a call. He didn't think he was impaired. He made a bad decision that haunts him every day. He's extremely depressed and thinks about what happened. He just wants to express to the family how sorrowful he is for the [Lawler] family."
Nation received a 12-year sentence for the vehicular homicide charge, reduced from the Class A felony of aggravated vehicular homicide that prosecutors first brought. He will serve that sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction and will be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of it. After hugging his family goodbye, Nation went into custody following Tuesday's hearing. He also received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days for the DUI, and prosecutors dismissed his failure to maintain and reckless endangerment charges as part of the plea agreement.
"If the state proceeded to trial, on or around Nov. 11, 2016, at about 8 p.m., the defendant and the victim, Meredith Lawler, were traveling in opposite directions when the defendant crossed the center line and hit her vehicle head-on," said Assistant District Attorney Kate Lavery. "They were both taken to Erlanger hospital. He was treated; Ms. Lawler died of her injuries. The defendant's blood alcohol was between .097 and .109."
In a powerful statement to the court, Lawler's sister, Natalie Sorrells, 36, asked Nation to remember Lawler's daughter, who recently celebrated her fourth birthday. Sorrells said Lawler's daughter still wakes up in the night crying for her mother. For the rest of her life, Sorrells said, she will struggle to remember her mother's voice and laughter, her joy of the simple beautifies in life.
"Jackie, for the record, everyone loses in this, no one wins," Sorrells said. "There are nights I lie awake and think of your family and your kids and grandkids, and what they lost, too ... so in this final moment in speaking to you, I hope you also remember [her]."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.