Parents make an emotional plea in court after a drunk driver killed their child
Markey Johnny Tanner wept as he apologized in Circuit Court to the parents of a young woman he killed while driving drunk.
The young woman’s mother was crying, too, as were some of his family members and supporters, filling two benches on the opposite side of the courtroom.
Up front sat Judge Christopher Schmidt, who would have to come up with an appropriate sentence for 26-year-old Tanner, who is from Hurley. He had pleaded guilty March 1 to causing the death of 22-year-old Megan DeKleinhans while driving drunk and leaving the scene of an accident.
“I’m sorry that this happened,” Tanner told her parents through sobs, his chest shaking. “I wish that y’all could find peace . . . I’m sorry that y’all are going through this. If there’s anything I could ever do to help y’all — I’m not a bad person. I just made a bad mistake.”
Tanner was not much of a drinker, his family said, but his girlfriend was going through a difficult time and had broken up with him. In February 2016, he went to a Mardi Gras parade, where he drank some beer and 10 or more tequila-laced Jello shots.
Though drunk, he decided to drive.
Late in the evening, Megan DeKleinhans had a fight with her boyfriend. She left him and was walking along Lamey Street in North Biloxi at the same time Tanner rounded the curve from Brodie Road onto Lamey. DeKleinhans’ boyfriend was in one lane with the door of his truck open, trying to coax Megan to get in.
Tanner hit her. He hit her and kept going. The woman in the car with him told police he said, “She shouldn’t have been in the road.”
Tanner has said that he did not know what he hit, but the front bumper of his car was banged up and the windshield cracked like a spiderweb on the passenger side. Police stopped him near Edgewater Mall and, eventually, the truth came out.
Tanner had never had so much as a speeding ticket, his family said in his defense before sentencing.
Living in anguish
Megan’s anguished parents told the judge what they have been through since that awful night.
Their daughter was kind. She picked up strays, volunteered one summer at a soup kitchen, walked for heart disease and cancer — all without any prodding from her parents.
Her mother said she pictures a reflection of Megan in a mirror, shattered into a million pieces. She can still hear Megan laughing with her friends, or see her cuddled on the couch with one of her stray animals.
She was an only child, her mother’s baby, her parents’ life. It was always just the three of them, having moved to Gulfport for James DeKleinhans’ work.
“Mr. Tanner didn’t just take her life on Feb. 6,” Linda DeKleinhans said. “He took ours as well . . . as we get older, we will have no one to care for us and no family to care for.”
She said she can’t even grocery shop because she sees Megan’s favorite foods. “It’s never-ending. It’s exhausting.”
At one point, she said, “All grief is love — love with nowhere to go.”
She asked Schmidt to sentence Tanner to 20 years in prison. “We hope he realizes that nothing can equal the life sentence of anguish he has given us,” she said.
Megan’s father noted Tanner’s lack of remorse when he pleaded guilty to the crime. At one point, Tanner said he thought that he had run over a bottle.
“He killed her and left her for dead on the street,” Megan’s father said. “I can’t imagine anybody doing that to anyone.”
Vengeance, mercy, justice
Schmidt had been thinking about the sentence, he said, even before he came to court.
Tanner’s family told the judge what a good man he was, how he was raising the three stepchildren of his fiance, how much he meant to all of them.
His mother, Carol Nixon Griffin, told the judge: “I know this is killing him inside. He is living with his own torment. He has to live with this until the day God takes him.”
Schmidt noted one family wanted vengeance, the other mercy. He was there, he said, to deliver justice.
He sentenced Tanner to 20 years in prison. Under state law, he will be eligible for parole in a little more than seven years.
“I know you did not set out that day to kill her, but you did nonetheless,” Schmidt said, noting that Tanner chose to drive drunk. “There are no winners in this case and there never are.”