Another chapter closed in the death of Savannah jass musician Ben Tucker.
A Texas man, Robert Martin, has entered an open-ended plea of guilty on a charge of vehicular homicide in Tucker’s death. A judge has sentenced Martin to five years probation.
Martin appeared in a Chatham County courtroom today. According to prosecutors he was driving his car at nearly one hundred miles per hour when he struck Tucker who was crossing the track in a golf cart on June 4, 2013. The open ended plea means Judge Timothy Walmsley decided the penalty with no pre-agreed deal with prosecutors. The charge carries a sentence of between three and fifteen years.
Testimony is being heard today as part of that sentencing. Prosecutors offered only a victim impact statement from Ben’s wife Gloria and then rested. Gloria Tucker told the Court she and Ben had been together for 53 years – married for 47 of them and that her love story ended the day Ben was killed.
The Defense has brought up a Metro Major Accident Investigations Detective to testify as to events that day. Judge Walmsley has said he expects the hearing to take most of the morning.
The defense spent time establishing for the court that Robert Martin was driving the day of the accident on a roadway that is clearly set up as a racetrack. A roadway where there are no signs indicating a golf cart crossing and no speed limit signs. He also had the Metro accident scene investigator point out high hedges near the path where Tucker was crossing the road that would have prevented Martin from seeing the path or approaching golf cart. The defense also brought up a memo written by Metro’s former police chief and the then acting city manager detailing the dangers of the track and advising that it should be closed to the public. That memo was written in March 2013, when the accident occurred on June 4th of that year – no action had been taken. Lastly, the defense contended that Ben Tucker himself carries some responsibility for the accident by choosing to use the path that crossed the track rather than the tunnel that runs under it. The officer questioned on the stand said had Tucker survived – he would likely have been cited for failure to yield and driving a golf cart on a roadway. Prosecutor Jennifer Guyer countered that the law states a motorist only has a responsibility to yield to something they can see coming and Mr. Tucker could not have seen the car coming because of the aforementioned hedges.
Following the investigator, the defense called three character witnesses – including a co-worker, a lifelong friend and Martin’s wife of twenty years. Finally Robert Martin himself took the stand – telling the Court he relives the accident every day. He says his life changed in a split second. He apologized to the entire Savannah community for having taken actions that took away such an icon.
After reviewing the evidence, Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced Martin to five years probation.