Detectives: Accused drunk driver speeding when he struck, killed woman

Putnam (left) and her best friend (Photo from friend)
Putnam (left) and her best friend (Photo from friend)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Prosecutors in the alleged drunk driving crash that killed a pedestrian last year rested their case Wednesday afternoon after the boyfriend of the victim told jurors he saw the moment when Kelli Putnam was hit.

"She was crossing the street and it seemed like she tried to get out of the way," Bronson Stewart said. "I saw her take her last little leap and then that's when it hit her right in the leg and her body just snapped."

A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police crash reconstruction expert told jurors Wednesday that his opinion is speed contributed to the crash that killed 28-year-old Kelli Putnam in Charlotte's South End neighborhood in January 2016.

Stewart recounted that January 17th afternoon for jurors.

He said he and Putnam took an Uber to tailgate before the Panthers game. The two then went to the playoff game. Stewart said after the game they stopped at the Gin Mill and each had one drink and they decided to go to a restaurant on South Boulevard to get something to eat.

Stewart said the two thought about taking the light rail but opted to walk because it was a nice afternoon and they were still excited about the Panthers' victory.

When they reached Iverson Way on South Boulevard, Stewart said he crossed the road. Putnam was behind him.

"I heard this car come. You could just hear it," Stewart testified. "It was just a loud engine like somebody was gunning it. Somebody was hitting the gas and was getting it. Pedal to the floor."

Stewart told jurors as he heard the car noise, he saw Putnam in the middle of the road.

"I saw her take her last step like she almost tried to get out of the way but it was too fast. She couldn't get out of the way fast enough. He was going way too fast."

Investigators say Gregory Wheeling was drunk, speeding and driving erratically when he allegedly fatally struck Putnam. Wheeling's defense says Putnam reportedly darted out onto the road.

Wheeling is on trial for second-degree murder, aggravated felony death by vehicle and driving while impaired.

"She got hit and she flew in the air. I mean as high as the power lines," he said. "Her body was just limp. It was there was no… a limp body flying the air and when it hit the street, it just tumbled and tumbled and tumbled like it was just never gonna stop or end. I wanted to run out and catch her."

Friends and family of Putnam listened in court as Stewart testified.

"I run out in the road. I'm standing over her. People from Taco Bell start running out. Everybody was just screaming 'don't touch her. Don't touch her.' I'm just laying over looking at her.

Stewart added, "all of her body parts are in tact so I'm praying and praying that she's going to be okay."

He said she was on her back.

"You couldn't tell where blood was coming from but there was a lot of blood coming down the street - like a river of blood coming down the street," he said he knew she was injured. "You could tell her leg was snapped. It was laying in a direction a leg doesn't lay."

Stewart said he prayed that at worst, Putnam would just hurt.

Meanwhile, the vehicle that hit Putnam ended up crashing into a telephone pole. Stewart said he recognized Wheeling.

"I looked at him and I said Greg – and he just looked at me with a blank face like he didn't know who I was," Stewart told jurors he and Wheeling played Pop Warner foot ball together.

"He looked at me with a blank face and I go that was Kelli," he said. "And then he just started going "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.""

Under cross examination by Wheeling's defense attorney, Stewart said in addition to the drink they each had at the Gin Mill, he and Putnam each had three to four beers at the game.

Attorney George Laughrun asked Stewart several questions.

"Did she (Putnam) seem anyway impaired to you? Laughrun asked.

"No sir" Stewart said.

Laughrun asked Stewart whether Putnam was walking, running, or darting across the road.

"She was crossing the street," Stewart answered.

"Was she walking or was she running?" Laughrn asked again.

Stewart replied, "I don't know that answer."

On Tuesday, jurors were told that Putnam's blood alcohol content was .20 and Wheeling's was .13 when the crash occurred.

Wednesday morning, prosecutors focused on the speed and impact of Wheeling's vehicle.

Detective Robert Gormican, of CMPD's Major Crash unit, told jurors that the damage to Wheeling's vehicle shows that Putnam was struck on the driver's side. Gormican said the damage is consistent with Putnam's body wrapping over the hood into the windshield.

According to Detective Gormican, his analysis showed that Wheeling was traveling between 51 mph and 63 mph when the deadly crash happened in the 35 mph stretch of South Boulevard. Gormican told jurors that the distance between the area of impact and where the Putnam's body came to rest was 191 feet.

Gormican told the court that the area of impact is where investigators first recognize evidence of some sort of impact.

The detective said he walked the scene after the crash and found a blood trail from where Putnam's body was hit in the area of impact to the final place of rest. He testified that he found gloves and fluid trail that indicates where the area of impact was. There was also a fluid trail from Putnam's body to where Wheeling's black Audi crashed into a telephone pole.

Dr Jonathan Privette, who is the medical examiner, testified that the cause of death was due to blunt force trauma.

The trial resumes Thursday morning with the defense presenting its case.


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