Two weeks ago, on March 20, 2012, we had a tragic and somewhat bizarre
auto accident in Newton County, Georgia.
I-20 is an interstate that runs east and west through downtown Atlanta.
It is a very busy road, with multiple lanes going in both directions.
In fact, there were two different automobile accidents, with tragic consequences.
First, a man named William Clark Hildreph was driving a Chevrolet Impala
eastbound on Interstate 20, near Alcovy Road. Hildreph, age 44, hailed
from Fort Mill, South Carolina.
Apparently Hildreph’s vehicle struck the median wall, spun out of
control, and wound up facing backwards (west) in the eastbound lane. After
this first car wreck, Hildreth got out of his car and started to walk
across the interstate. Before he reached the other side, a red SUV ran
into him. Hildreph died. The driver of the SUV left the scene of the car
accident and continued on along I-20.
The story got stranger when the State Patrol learned that the vehicle that
Hildreph had been driving belonged to Danny Joe Baxter, a 57-year-old
man from Haleyville, Alabama. Haleyville is located northwest of Birmingham.
When police went to Baxter’s home to talk to him, they were shocked
to find his dead body.
When I analyze this situation legally, as a
Newton County, Georgia, car accident lawyer and personal injury lawyer, it is hard to know where to start.
First, Mr. Hildreth apparently failed to maintain his lane, which caused
him to hit the median wall. Under Georgia law, a driver has a duty to
maintain his lane, and should keep his vehicle “as nearly as practicable
entirely within a single lane” and shall not move it from the lane
“until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be
made with safety.
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48.
Second, Mr. Hildreth was crossing a highway in the middle of the night.
Presumably I-20 has a shoulder in that area. In that case, Georgia law
provides that a pedestrian “standing or striding along and upon
a highway shall stand or stride only on the shoulder, as far as practicable
from the edge of the roadway.” Even on a highway that has no shoulder,
a pedestrian is required to “stand or stride as near as practicable
to an outside edge of the roadway.” In general, even if he was crossing
to the shoulder, “any pedestrian upon a roadway shall yield the
right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
O.C.G.A, § 40-6-96.
Third, Georgia law requires a driver involved in an auto accident to stop
at the scene of the car wreck:
The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to
or the death of any person or in damage to a vehicle which is driven or
attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene
of the accident or shall stop as close thereto as possible and forthwith
return to the scene of the accident . . .
O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270(a).
Because he was a hit-and-run driver, and because the driver fled the scene
of the accident, everyone presumes he or she was responsible for the wreck.
Ironically, had the driver stayed at the scene of the wreck, he well may
not have been held responsible for what happened since Mr. Hildreth was
crossing a highway, rather than walking along the side of the road. By
not stopping, the driver in the red SUV converted a sad circumstance into
a crime, as he became guilty of a traffic violation as a Newton County
hit and run driver who had fled the scene of the accident.