A Glen St. Mary man was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week for his part in a drunk driving accident on U.S. 90 that killed two Sanderson men more than two years ago.
Christopher Wayne Wheeler, 37, was at the wheel of a 1994 Jeep Cherokee that ran the stop sign at the Smokey Road intersection and collided with the Ford Explorer driven by Ardris D. Paige, 43, a part-time basketball coach on his way home from practice at the Baker High the evening of November 16.
Mr. Paige and passenger Christopher V. Jefferson, 20, a former Wildcat athlete who played in a scrimmage game that night, were ejected in the crash and died. Two players on the basketball team, Delano Lee Paige, 19, and Marquis Paige, 17, were injured.
Members of victims’ family expressed their grief during a tear-filled sentencing the morning of March 19. Many members of both the victims’ and defendant’s families were present and comforted one another after the hearing before Circuit Judge Mark M. Moseley.
“If you were in his [Christopher Jefferson] presence, you were easily smiling,” said the victim’s cousin and friend Marcell Thomas.
Mr. Thomas described Mr. Jefferson as an ambitious, funny young man who could connect with anyone instantly and who was very close with his siblings.
“He would hop in the car with me to ride anywhere I was going ... I would pick him up to go anywhere just because he would keep me laughing, telling me about everything he was experiencing in his life,” said Mr. Thomas.
There was more lost in the crash than the lives of two men, he said.
“These were two people that affected many lives and there are so many people that will never be the same,” Mr. Thomas told the court.
A written statement from Mr. Paige’s father, Larry G. White was read into the record. He said his son was a hard worker at the state hospital and a military veteran who spent time in Korea, Kuwait and on U.S. bases. Mr. Paige was set to leave for Army Reserve training in California the day after his death.
Mr. White requested a sentence of 20 years, 10 years for each of the victims.
“No amount of years can bring my son back,” said his mother Barbara Paige. “I can’t call him or go to his house and sit for hours just talking and laughing ...” She said it was months after the grisly accident before she could drive on U.S. 90 because she feared running over something of her son’s.
Mr. Paige’s wife of 17 years, Trease Paige, recalled the last moments she had with her husband before the tragedy, when she finished cutting his hair for the last time and how he left the house in a good mood but never returned.
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