Jeffery Dewayne Herrington’s former girlfriend turned him in, and less than two weeks after a vehicle traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 17 struck and killed 18-year-old Ta’Shara Culbreath the night of Sept. 15, 2017, officers arrested Herrington at his R Street residence for the alleged crimes that led to her death.
Barbara Forehand testified at Herrington’s second-degree vehicular homicide trial Thursday that she and Herrington, 53, dated for several months, but she couldn’t recall the exact number. She was living in the Woodland Mobile Home Park just off the highway, and said Herrington had a number of other friends who were living there.
According to police testimony and Herrington’s recorded statement to police — which was played for the jurors — Herrington drove a friend that evening to the friend’s residence at Woodland the evening of Sept. 15 because the friend needed a ride. Forehand, who said she lived five steps from the friend’s residence, said Herrington’s GMC Yukon Denali wasn’t damaged at that time.
However, when she saw it the next day, she noticed damage to the front passenger side of the vehicle. Forehand testified Herrington said he struck a deer, but she said “that ain’t no deer hit,” and related she saw damage from deer several times to vehicles her mother drove.
It was after hearing a news report of Culbreath’s death that she pieced the two together and reported it to the Georgia State Patrol. Forehand now lives in Louisiana and said she received threatening phone calls about the case, and was scared to make the trip back to Georgia to testify.
Quanesha Shaw, Culbreath’s godmother, testified Culbreath was at her residence earlier that day, but left before Shaw returned home. She said Culbreath told her she was going to a party in the area of Fairway Oaks at a friend’s place. At the time, Culbreath was wearing her McDonald’s uniform she’d worn for her shift earlier in the day.
Culbreath called Shaw around 8:34 p.m. that night, asking for a ride home, but the father of Shaw’s children was using the car at that moment, so Shaw couldn’t go get her. Shaw said she told Culbreath to call her when she got to her mom’s porch because they couldn’t keep talking as the battery life on Culbreath’s phone was almost drained. That was the last anyone heard from the Culbreath.
The amount of light on that part of U.S. Highway 17 between 8:30 and 9 p.m. remains in some dispute. Defense attorney Robert Crowe, in his opening statement, said it was dark, and hard to see much. At the time, Culbreath was wearing a black shirt, black pants, black shoes and a black visor while walking down the side of the highway.
The morning of Sept. 28, then-Glynn County Police Investigator David Moore and GSP Trooper Gentry Maddox spoke to Herrington at his residence. During their discussion, which was played for the jury, Herrington said it was getting dark, but not that dark, giving the impression of a sort of not-quite-night. Sunset that day for Brunswick was 7:31 p.m., putting it a full hour before Culbreath’s call to her godmother.
Herrington said he knew he hit something, but had his eyes on the road and didn’t see anything. As a result, he said he looped back around on the highway to take another pass to see what he hit, which was in the area near Palmera Lane.
He said he returned that night with a woman he’d been dating a short while, Leslie Tyson, and his cousin, Shevon Bernard. From statements made in court, neither the prosecution nor the defense were able to locate Tyson to get her to testify, but Bernard corroborated Herrington’s story that they went back to the scene to see what he might have hit, but weren’t able to spot anything.
Kevin Crotty, who was working for AT&T conducting hurricane assessment, found Culbreath early the next morning, Sept. 16. He said he was examining the utility poles as he rode by in his truck when he noticed something by the road.
Crotty testified he pulled over, stopped, got out and walked back toward the area, where he found Culbreath. She was lying face down, body to the side of the road with her feet sticking out under the guardrail and her face on the asphalt, arms spread to both sides. The collision knocked her from her shoes, along with throwing her visor, a shoe, and her phone some distance from where she fell, inches from the white line.
During law enforcement questioning of Herrington, he broke down sobbing as Moore suggested Herrington might have believed in the moment he hit wildlife, but later realized he hit a person as news of Culbreath’s death spread through the community. He said he first learned of it from Tyson, who was Culbreath’s aunt.
He became emotional before police questioning, as well. Vanessa Herrington, another cousin, said in an interview with law enforcement that they walked around a mile down U.S. Highway 17 at one point, looking for evidence of what the defendant hit, but she said he could hardly understand him at times because he was so distraught.
During the defense’s portion of the case, Crowe called to the stand Brianna Rounsavall, who was living at the apartments at Palm Club and working the evening of Sept. 15 at Wake Up Coffee’s St. Simons Island location. She testified she wasn’t feeling well that night and went home early.
Rounsavall said it wasn’t until the headlights of her vehicle landed on a woman matching Culbreath’s description, while Rounsavall was turning into her apartment complex, that she saw the woman at all. She said she was scared because if she hadn’t noticed the pedestrian on the side of the highway at the right moment, she might have hit that person.
Rounsavall said that after learning of what happened to Culbreath, she called the authorities and told them what happened that night, hoping it would help the investigation.
The case will likely go to the jury this morning — a jury composed of seven white men and seven white women. The alternates are not known to the gallery in the courtroom. Both Culbreath and Herrington are black.
The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. at the Glynn County Courthouse.