Teen pleads guilty to vehicular homicide

by Wes Mayer

A Newnan teen who was charged with vehicular homicide after a car accident resulted in the death of one of his friends pleaded guilty in a blind plea on Wednesday.

Joseph Brian Shelnutt was charged with homicide by vehicle in the first degree, driving under the influence of alcohol under the age of 21, driving under a combined influence, reckless driving, underage possession of alcohol, failure to wear seat safety belt, and laying drags. According to Coweta County Assistant District Attorney Kevin McMurry, Shelnutt pleaded guilty to all counts before Superior Court Judge Allen Keeble on Wednesday.

Shelnutt was arrested in January following an investigation by the Georgia State Patrol. In September 2013, Shelnutt was driving under the influence on Smokey Road with three friends in his 1990 Toyota 4Runner. Authorities with the GSP State Collision Reconstruction Team were able to determined the vehicle swerved back and forth on the road, running off both sides multiple times, before eventually rotating and overturning several times.

Neither Shelnutt nor his front seat passenger, Austin Walker Pope, 16, were wearing seat belts, and they were both ejected from the vehicle during the accident. Pope did not survive. The other two passengers were also injured.

After hearing the guilty plea, Keeble sentenced Shelnutt to 10 years with five to serve in prison for the count of vehicular homicide. These five years, however, could be suspended if Shelnutt completes the probation boot camp through the Georgia Department of Corrections. The boot camp is based on a structured military regimen and includes working during the day in the community or at public service work – as well as risk reduction programs in the evenings.

Keeble also gave Shelnutt two special conditions for his probation. The first – Shelnutt must spend 500 hours publicly speaking to schools about the accident and how he killed his friend. Shelnutt is also not allowed any contact with Pope’s family.

Keeble sentenced Shelnutt to 12 months for all the remaining counts, but each sentencing will run concurrent to his first count of vehicular homicide.

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