Trial underway of accused drunk driver who hit, killed woman after Panthers game

Wheeling (Source: Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office)
Wheeling (Source: Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office)
Putnam (left) and her best friend (Photo from friend)
Putnam (left) and her best friend (Photo from friend)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Was Gregory Wheeling drunk, speeding, and driving erratically when he allegedly hit and killed Kelli Putnam on South Boulevard last January? Or, did Putnam run out into traffic, causing the collision?

That is the question jurors will decide now that Wheeling's trial is underway. Wheeling was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated felony death by vehicle, and driving while under the influence.

One of the first witnesses to testify in court Monday was Joshua Siff.

Siff told jurors that on January 17, 2016, he went with his friend Ashley Campbell to tailgate with some of her friends before a Panthers game. After tailgating, the group took an Uber to Whiskey Warehouse where he met Wheeling and his girlfriend.

Siff testified that he didn't sit with Wheeling or spend any time with him, so he didn't see if Wheeling had consumed any alcohol.  He said when the group left Whiskey Warehouse, Wheeling offered Siff a ride to the light rail station on South Boulevard near I-485.

Siff said Campbell drove Wheeling's vehicle because Siff wasn't sure if everyone had consumed alcoholic beverages. He said he knew for a fact that Campbell didn't drink any alcohol so he wanted her to drive.

He testified that on the way to the light rail station, Wheeling was sitting in the front passenger seat and at one moment was apparently agitated that Campbell was driving too slow.

He told jurors that Wheeling "forced her leg to rev the engine," meaning Wheeling "used his hand to push her leg down."

Siff said the group got lost while making their way to the light rail station. He said they stopped at a gas station and the women went inside to use the restroom.

Siff testified that that's when Wheeling decided he was going to take over the driving. He said when they left the gas station, Wheeling was driving "somewhat erratically, weaving in and out between cars" and speeding.

"I was very uncomfortable," he said. "I couldn't even look out the front window. I was scared."

He told the prosecutor he didn't say anything to Wheeling as the driver "accelerated in and out of cars."

Rick Pearson told jurors he was stopped at a traffic light next to the black Audi that Wheeling was driving. Pearson testified that when the light turned green, the Audi took off.

"It took off at a high rate of speed and left us in the dust," Pearson said.

Pearson said shortly after Wheeling drove away and cut in front of other cars, traffic came to a roll and slowed down.

Meanwhile, Siff - the passenger in the Wheeling's vehicle -  said he saw a woman walking on the sidewalk. Then, he said, the woman had run out onto the street and Wheeling struck her.

"We turned and looked at each other and [Wheeling] asked 'what happened?'" Siff testified.

A woman who was walking on South Boulevard with her husband said her husband uttered "he's going to hit that girl." The woman testified when she turned to look she saw the vehicle hit Putnam.

"I saw her legs where her head should have been," she said. "What seemed like a cloud of blood."

Siff said after the collision with Putnam, the car hit a telephone pole and everyone got out. He said they were "shocked and shaken."

Under cross-examination by defense attorney George Laughrun, Siff said when the group left Whiskey Warehouse, he didn't see Wheeling stumbling as he walked down the stairs and he didn't hear him slurring his words.

The defense pointed out that the victim ran out onto the road.

Siff said "out of the blue that person was in front of the vehicle."

Testimony ended Monday afternoon after the prosecution showed the jury the video of the scene from police body worn cameras.

Day two of the trial is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.


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