ATHENS, Ga. — Former Georgia star defensive lineman Jalen Carter resolved the traffic charges he received as a result of his involvement in the fatal car crash that took the lives of a teammate and a UGA recruiting staffer in January.
In an agreement reached with Athens-Clarke County prosecutors Thursday, Carter entered pleas of no contest to charges of racing and reckless driving. He was sentenced to 12 months probation, a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service. He also must complete a state-approved defensive driving course, according to his Athens attorney, Kim Stephens.
In a news release, Stephens asserted that Carter “never left the scene of the crash” that killed teammate Devin Willock, 20, and recruiting analyst Chandler LeCroy, 24, on Jan. 15.
But Stephens’ statement later said Carter was “informed he could leave” and returned later at the request of police.
In an interview Thursday, Stephens said he didn’t know who told Carter he could leave the scene.
“It was somebody who he knew to have authority,” Stephens said. “I don’t know if it was directly from law enforcement.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported earlier this month that Carter left the scene, apparently before authorities arrived. Documents reviewed by the Journal-Constitution showed that when Carter returned for questioning more than an hour and a half later, he gave inconsistent accounts of the crash. First he said he was nearly a mile away when the wreck occurred. Later, he said he was following the SUV driven by LeCroy close enough to see its taillights — but also acknowledged he had been driving alongside the vehicle.
Police investigators determined from the vehicle’s onboard computer that LeCroy had been driving as fast as 104 mph. The SUV’s speedometer stuck on 82 mph after it struck two utility poles, trees and an apartment building.
Stephens said he was not contesting the Journal-Constitution’s reporting but that he was trying to combat “rumors” shared by other people about Carter’s involvement.
When charges were filed against Carter, the police described a manic scene leading to the crash, which occurred at 2:45 a.m. on Jan. 15, following a day of celebration of Georgia’s second consecutive national football championship. Carter and the occupants of the car that crashed appeared to be among several players and recruiting staff members who left a downtown Athens strip club about 2:30 a.m., according to surveillance video obtained by the Journal-Constitution. The police examined other video from cameras posted along the route between downtown and the crash site, about three miles away.
In a statement, the Athens police said the vehicles — Carter’s Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk and a rented Ford Expedition driven by LeCroy — “switched between lanes, drove in the center turn lane, drove in opposite lanes of travel, overtook other motorists and drove at high rates of speed, in an apparent attempt to outdistance each other.”
After the crash, Stephens said, Carter stopped and “ran toward the wrecked vehicle while his passenger called 911.” Stephens did not identify the passenger.
Despite the racing documented by the police, Stephens said Carter did not cause the crash.
“If the investigation had determined otherwise, he would have been charged with the far more serious offenses of vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle,” Stephens said. He added that Carter was not under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal substances at the time of the wreck.
Crash investigators said Carter’s Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk sustained damage to the roof from wires falling when the Expedition ran off the road.
Willock, a third-year offensive lineman from New Jersey, was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene. LeCroy was pronounced dead when she arrived by ambulance at an Athens hospital. A toxicology test by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation later determined her blood-alcohol concentration was .197, or more than twice the legal limit of .08. UGA has since said LeCroy was unauthorized to drive the vehicle, which had been rented by the athletic association for recruiting purposes only.
Tory Bowles, another full-time member of the recruiting staff, sustained serious spine and rib fractures in the crash but is expected to recover. Warren McClendon, a junior offensive lineman who was riding in the front passenger seat, was treated and released for minor injuries, including a cut on his forehead.
Carter had been considered the possible No. 1 overall pick in the coming NFL draft before police issued a warrant for his arrest on the eve of his workout at the NFL combine in February. Since then, Carter’s draft stock has continued to drop. He was 9 pounds heavier than he was at the combine and could not complete his drills because of poor conditioning when he performed for NFL scouts at UGA’s Pro Day on Wednesday in Athens.