Tears flowed on both sides of the aisle during Friday's probation hearing for a 24-year-old Crane Hill man who was ordered by Circuit Court Judge Don Hardeman to immediately begin serving a five-year sentence on a plea of guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Adam S. Gardner pleaded guilty to the charge during December court proceedings.

The April 18, 2004, truck/motorcycle accident resulted in the death of William Michael Owens, 56, of Sylvania, Ga.

On Friday, Gardner, accompanied by members of his family and attorney Johnny Berry, stood silently before Hardeman as Victoria Owens, the widow of the victim, and his son Elijah, spoke emotionally about the loss of a "loving and caring husband and father."

After both parties were given an opportunity to speak, Hardeman announced his decision to deny probation. He then remanded Gardner to the custody of the Cullman County Sheriff's Office.

"This may have been a matter of bad judgment. I don't know. I wasn't there. All I can do is ask you (Gardner) to search your heart to determine what transpired that night and why," Hardeman stated in rendering his decision on Gardner's probation request. "Some steps are taken in life that can't be undone and carry with them a consequence that must be paid. It would just be wrong to grant you probation and therefore your request for probation is denied.

"To your family, I am terribly sorry. I know you are suffering in many ways as much as the victim's family is suffering," Hardeman said.

In his comments to the Owens family, who made the trip to Cullman from Georgia Friday morning in order to attend the probation hearing, Hardeman said he couldn't pretend to feel their pain.

"I've lost loved ones as well and I want you to know how terribly sorry I am," Hardeman said. "I wish this had never happened. I wish there was something I could do today to ease your suffering and I know there is nothing I can do. I pray the Good Lord will be with you and help ease your pain."

Gardner was reportedly driving his 1996 Toyota pickup truck eastbound on Alabama Highway 69 South around 8:40 p.m. on April 18, 2004, and attempted a left turn onto County Road 59 when he crossed the path of Owens, who was traveling westbound on Highway 69 riding a 2000 Kawasaki.

Trooper Jeremy Baker stated that evidence at the scene indicated Gardner pulled into the path of the motorcycle as he was attempting to turn onto County Road 59.

Baker also confirmed that Gardner fled the accident scene in his truck and was apprehended approximately two hours later.

Coroner Gary Murphree said Owens was still alive "but unresponsive" when emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene.

"Rapid responders and then paramedics with Cullman Ambulance Service worked feverishly in an attempt to resuscitate him, but their attempts failed," Murphree said.

Owens, who was working as an independent contractor for Alabama Power, was living in a camper here during the week while working in the vicinity of Smith Lake Dam.

At the time of his arrest, Gardner was initially charged with driving under the influence and felony leaving the scene of an accident. He was later indicted on those charges and four other alcohol-related charges including felony DUI, vehicular homicide, criminal negligent homicide and manslaughter.

The five alcohol-related charges, however, were omitted from December's plea agreement as a result of objections raised by Gardner's attorney Johnny Berry.

"We adamantly deny any use of alcohol by my client in this case and that is not what he pled to," Berry said. "This is a young man, 24 years of age, who has only had two speeding tickets. He is not a criminal."

Speaking on behalf of his client and the Gardner family before Judge Hardeman, Berry admitted to not knowing the victim's family, but said he nonetheless sympathizes with their loss.

"I would like to offer my condolences to the family. I own a motorcycle and I've purchased a motorcycle for my son. A couple of friends of mine were killed in an accident just a couple of months ago. Motorcycles are difficult to see and accidents do occur," Berry said.

"This is an unusual defendant we have before the court today your honor," Berry said. "Ninety percent of the defendants who come up before the court have a history of bad behavior. This young man has had only two speeding tickets before this. He has never seen the inside of a jail cell. We cannot change what happened and sending this young man to prison for a tragic accident can't change what happened."

District Attorney Wilson Blaylock said he totally agreed with Hardeman's decision to deny probation.

"Under the circumstances, it's the right thing to do," Blaylock said. "We have a tragic accident that resulted in a man's death and we're left to wonder if the victim would be alive today if the defendant had attempted to help or at the very least had called for help.

"I feel for both of these families," Blaylock said. "One family lost a husband, a father, a son and a brother and the other has lost a son to prison for the next five years. My heart goes out to both families, but I feel the judge's decision is the correct one and Gardner should spend time in prison for leaving Mr. Owens on the side of the road that night."

Following Hardeman's decision to deny probation, Victoria Owens said she was grateful Gardner would have to spend time in jail, but was disappointed that the sentence was only five years.

"I don't know if he (Gardner) will be coming up for parole or not, but if he does we'll make the trip back and asked that it be denied again, because I never want this to happen to anyone else," Victoria Owens said. "He was originally indicted on five alcohol-related charges and I believe that alcohol was involved. It's disappointing that those charges could not have been included as part of the plea."

Asked about her comments before Judge Hardeman, Victoria Owens said she basically told the judge she couldn't understand how one human being could leave another human being to die alone on the side of the road.

"It's the thing that keeps us awake at night. The fact that after the accident he left my husband on the side of the road to die alone in the dirt. I don't understand how he could do that," Victoria Owens said. "Even if he couldn't have done anything to save him he could have stopped and held his hand so he wouldn't have died alone. I would give anything I've got and anything I ever will have to be on the side of the road that night, but the one person who was there, who could have helped just drove away."

That's also the one thing Elijah Owens told Hardeman "sticks in my craw."

"I probably wouldn't feel as hard toward this man if he had stayed and tried to help my dad, or at least called someone. All the I'm sorries in the world won't bring my father back," Elijah Owens said. "I'm not out for blood and I don't want to see this boy's entire life ruined. I understand people make mistakes. My dad was an ex-marine and he believed in punishment. If you did something wrong you knew you had a whipping coming. All I'm really looking for is justice. With help my father could have had a chance. I'm grateful for the time I had with him."

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