"A Bad Decision" Killed Six Close Friends - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

"A Bad Decision" Killed Six Close Friends

Circuit Court Judge Steve Simpson looked right at Chris Rutland and said, "This case is clearly an unusual case in several ways."

It starts with the death of six close friends -- all killed in an accident on Highway 26 in Stone County. Rutland called his decision to drive while intoxicated "a bad decision."

The mother of Richard O'Barr said everybody involved in the accident made bad decisions. But they were all friends, she said, and everybody trusted each other.

"They wouldn't have Chris drive if they didn't think that was the right thing to do," she told the judge.

Chris Rutland was the man behind the wheel the night of the accident. The 21-year-old had a blood alcohol level of .19 when his pickup slammed into an 18 wheeler. That's more than twice the legal limit.

"I would just like to apologize to all parties injured for my part in this terrible tragedy," Rutland told people in the courtroom.

Rutland could have had a grand jury hear the evidence of this case. Instead he stood in front of Judge Steve Simpson and admitted he drove under the influence and caused six deaths.

Simpson again called the court proceeding an unusual case. This time, he looked out into the audience and noted "all of these families of the deceased, and friends, and principals, and people in this community who have come to support you."

One of the supporters was Susan Jordan. Her daughters Carley and Brittany both died that fateful night.

"I strongly believe that Chris was acting in my children's best interests," Jordan told the court. "I felt he was doing what was necessary to take care of them."

Rutland told the judge he had just picked up some friends who needed a ride home.

"We became disoriented in the fog. I really didn't know where I was heading," he admitted.

He also said earlier beer consumption at a bar in Louisiana contributed to his confusion.

Allen Martel was also in the pickup when it crashed.

"I know he made a bad decision that night," Martel told the judge. "But his intent was not, was not to get in the car and drink and drive. He actually was doing us a favor by coming to pick us up from these people's house that we were at."

And that's what victims' families kept emphasizing. Rutland was a dear friend who didn't mean to hurt anyone. An assistant D.A. read a message from the Bozemans. Their son Josh also died in the January 12 crash.

"Incarceration of Chris would not only increase that pain, but ruin another life in the process," the Bozemans wanted Judge Simpson to know.

In the end, Simpson ordered Rutland to spend the next year under house arrest. He'll serve that sentence in Oxford, so he can continue his college studies at Ole Miss.

"You need to honor your victims' deaths by becoming more than what you would have been otherwise," the judge said.

by Brad Kessie

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