Walton sentenced in deadly distracted driving case

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Leah Walton was sentenced to several years behind bars when punishment in a deadly distracted driving case was announced Tuesday morning.

A Mecklenburg County jury handed down a guilty verdict to the 23-year old Monday afternoon, not long after closing arguments finished. She was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana.

Walton will serve between 2 years, 7 months and 4 years for the assault with a deadly weapon conviction. She was also sentenced to six years of supervised probation for involuntary manslaughter. If she fails to satisfy the terms of her probation, she will be sent to prison for 20-24 months. Walton was also ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution to the woman who survived the crash, and an additional $12,000 to the family of the woman who was killed.

Walton bowed her head and wiped away tears as Susan Karabulut's friends and families told the judge why she should go to jail.

Lisa McIe, the surviving victim, spoke first from her wheelchair and described how the accident changed her life. "I mourn the loss of Susan, a normal healthy body, my nursing career and my intimate relationship with my husband Roy of 22 years," said McIe.

Karabulut's mother sobbed, telling the judge Susan was her baby.

Her 13-year-old daughter also spoke told the judge, "it wasn't fair."

When it came time for Leah Walton's mother to speak, Karabulut's mother and sisters rushed out of the courtroom. Hoping to spare her 23-year-old daughter jail time, Walton's mother talked for 15 minutes. She said her family had suffered too.

"She will suffer with the knowledge of the events for the remainder of her life," she said.

Walton herself did not speak, except to mouth the words "I love you" as she was handcuffed and led away.

For Lisa McIe and the family of Susan Karabulut,  no apology or sentence will ever fill their void.

"I still hear Susan cry for me, Mama, that's the hardest part because I wasn't there to save her," said Liz Fabrizio.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors said Walton hit two people with her vehicle, due to distracted driving, two years ago. One of the victims died. The crash happened outside the Oak Manor retirement home on Craig Avenue.

"This is no faceless, heartless issue," Defense attorney George Laughrum said. "Did on Aug 22 Leah Ann Walton intend to have the accident? The answer is no. Punishment yes, vengeance no."

"The truest words up on that witness stand were 'it's all my fault..there are no excuses'...when you lay facts over law- the defendant is guilty as charged," Prosecutor Gabrielle Macon said. "No one is saying she is an evil person – don't be misled."

On Friday morning the defense rested after Walton took the stand, looking very upset.

Walton told jurors that she was reaching for a cigarette when the wreck occurred and didn't hit the brake until she hit the curb.

"I was so distraught. I felt horrible, didn't know how I could've done this to two people," she said from the stand. "I didn't know what happened, but knew it was my fault."

She told the jury that she was running late for work that morning.

Walton also admitted to smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol and popping a Xanax anti-anxiety pill the night before the crash. She was prescribed the medication a month earlier for panic attacks.  She said that she had used cocaine in the days leading up to the fatal wreck.

"I'm so sorry," she said on the stand. "I would take it back if I could."

A doctor testified Thursday that she had prescription drugs in her system the day she ran over two nurses who were taking a smoke break on the sidewalk.

Susan Karablut was killed. Lisa Micle survived, but is now in a wheelchair.

Dr. Irvin Allcox, a former forensic chemist with the State Bureau of Investigation testified on Thursday to finding three different prescription drugs in Walton's blood. The medications included a pain reliever known as oxycodone, an anti-anxiety drug and an anti-depressant.

The doctor did not find cocaine or alcohol, but found traces of marijuana.

He could not determine if Walton was impaired by the medications the morning of the accident; Walton claims she wasn't.

"I can only say that impairing substances were present, " said Dr. Allcox.

The defense argued the testimony carried no value and was prejudicial, while prosecutors argued the results could've contributed to Walton driving recklessly.

The judge agreed to allow the testimony in court.

Jurors also visited the site of the accident Thursday morning.

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