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Man sentenced for fatal crash

A former truck driver from Texas was sentenced on Friday to three months to serve for a 2016 crash that killed an elderly couple.

Jemar Tarik Hall was driving a tractor-trailer just before 6 p.m. Dec. 2, 2016, when the tractor-trailer collided with a passenger vehicle on Route 58 westbound just before the Wilroy Road exit.

In the vehicle were Jean M. Mitchell, 77, and Robert E. Mitchell, 81, of Ivor. The husband and wife both died within about a day after the crash.

Hall was indicted on two charges of involuntary manslaughter in June 2017. After a bench trial in Suffolk Circuit Court in October 2018, he was acquitted of both charges and found guilty only of reckless driving.

His defense attorney, Grier Ferguson, said Hall had pulled to the side of the road to use his cellphone. When he began to merge back into traffic, he saw the Mitchells’ vehicle but believed they had enough time and space to react to him pulling his tractor-trailer back into the travel lane.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, the Mitchells’ daughter, Amy Turner, testified about what her parents meant to the family, their church and their community. Her sister, Robin Phelps, was also present.

“Our parents were wonderful people,” Turner said. She talked especially about the great-grandson that has been born since they passed. “We feel their loss very deeply, knowing they would have adored him,” she said.

The Mitchells were very involved in their church, Millfield Baptist Church in Wakefield, and were pillars of the community.

Turner also said the family was unable to keep the home where they all grew up after her parents’ accident.

But she also asked for grace for Hall and said the family harbors no ill will toward him.

“My parents raised us to know and trust in Jesus Christ,” she said. “It is because of Jesus Christ and His love and forgiveness and grace for us that we ask you to show love and forgiveness and grace today.

“We hold no grudge or animosity to you, Jemar,” she added.

Hall testified that he followed in his father’s footsteps as a truck driver and was excited when he got his commercial driver’s license. But he stopped driving immediately after the accident.

“It was something I thought I was really good at,” he said. “When that happened, it devastated me. That happened not even two years into driving. It made me feel like I was nothing.”

He has been working in a motor shop and also is a waiter at Texas Roadhouse, where he’s working to save money to go to community college.

“I didn’t intend for anything like this to happen,” he said. “Not a day goes by I don’t think about that.”

He apologized directly to the family in the courtroom.

Prosecutor Ryan Marion — a special prosecutor from Portsmouth, appointed because Grier Ferguson is Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson’s brother — asked for active jail time but said he had no doubt Hall’s apologies were sincere.

Circuit Court Judge L. Wayne Farmer called the crime a “tragic error” but said Hall should serve time because of the fact he operated a tractor-trailer recklessly.

“Crimes punish conduct, not outcomes,” he said. “Very small offenses can have extraordinarily horrible consequences.”

Farmer said Hall will likely serve only about half of the three-month sentence. He also allowed Hall to delay reporting until 5 p.m. Friday, giving him about five hours to spend some time with his parents.