Crime

A teen drunk driver killed her son in Ocean Springs. She asked the judge for mercy.

‘All is forgiven.’ After Ocean Springs teen’s fatal DUI crash, victims ask judge for leniency.

Seth Lee McGee could have spent years behind bars for driving drunk at 18 and crashing his vehicle, killing one friend and injuring another in 2016. The victims pleaded with the judge to not give McGee prison. It changed the judge's mind.
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Seth Lee McGee could have spent years behind bars for driving drunk at 18 and crashing his vehicle, killing one friend and injuring another in 2016. The victims pleaded with the judge to not give McGee prison. It changed the judge's mind.

An 18-year-old from Ocean Springs wasn’t old enough to buy the alcohol he was drinking before he sped around a curve, lost control of his car and crashed into a tree on Sept. 29, 2016.

The impact threw the passengers from the car, killing Graham Kyle Lance, 18, and injuring Calvin Butler, then 22.

But instead of demanding justice, both Lance’s mother and Butler asked a judge for leniency for now-21-year-old Seth Lee McGee at his sentencing Tuesday.

“This is the first case I can recall that I’ve ever had where the victims have asked me not to send someone to prison,” Judge Dale Harkey said.

At the time of the crash, McGee, Lance and Butler were in a silver Mustang heading south of Ocean Springs High School near Belle Fontaine Road when the car left the road, hit a culvert, flipped and hit a tree.

A law enforcement officer said he had attempted to stop the car for speeding but lost sight of it until it had crashed. The deputy later spotted the wrecked car on the side of the road.

A toxicology test determined McGee was legally impaired, resulting in his indictment on two felony offenses. A blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or above is legally drunk in the state. McGee registered a little over .08 percent and was legally impaired.

McGee said he had drank a few beers while he and his friends had been hanging out on the beach before the crash. He said he made a mistake when he agreed to give his friends a ride home.

After the crash, a deputy talked to Butler, who said the only thing he could remember was that he was scared because McGee was driving really fast.

Further investigation revealed Lance was thrown from the vehicle and hit by the Mustang before it slammed into a tree. The impact threw Butler some 70 feet from where the car came to a rest.

‘A really bad dream’

In court Tuesday, both Lance’s mother and Butler had written letters to be read aloud.

Brandie Lance pleaded to keep McGee out of prison. She said her son and McGee had been friends for years, even losing both of their fathers within the same year.

Lance’s high school graduation was touted as a success story because his dad was diagnosed with cancer and died in his last years of high school.

“It was a difficult time for him,” Ocean Springs High School teacher Lori Brennan said. “He had such a good heart and so much potential.”

Brandie Lance read her own letter, holding the piece of paper in one hand and tissues in the other.

“Losing my son Graham has affected every aspect of my life ... I will never see him get married or become a father. I wish this were all just a really bad dream,” Lance said. “I have no animosity against Seth. My son and he were friends for several years. I know Seth has to live with this every day, his life has been affected by one poor decision.”

‘He does too’

Butler had his letter read by McGee’s lawyer, Keith Miller, as he sat behind Lance’s mother in the courtroom dressed in his work uniform.

“What he did will haunt him for the rest of his life .... Graham wouldn’t want this for him,” the letter read. “He’s such a great person and would give the shirt off his back for anyone. None of us want to see him go despite all that he has done.

“He’s already living with the fact that he killed basically his brother. The accident changed him.”

Harkey asked Butler to come to the front of the courtroom to hear in-person why he chose to ask for leniency after the accident left him seriously injured. He echoed what he had written in the letter.

“All is forgiven. Everything that happened was an accident,” Butler said. “Yes, I have to live with it, but he does too. I don’t think he deserves to go ... He deserves a second chance.”

‘They saved you’

Harkey asked McGee if he had anything to say before he decided on his sentence. After a moment, he spoke through tears.

“I can’t take it back, but if I could I would.”

The judge said he has always respected and tried to honor the feelings and perspective of the victims. “I see no benefit to society or you personally by sending you to prison.”

“You have to live with the fact of what happened to your friends. That you lost one, and that they saved you.”

The judge sentenced McGee to the 20 years, but suspended prison time and ordered five years of house arrest with intensive supervision. McGee was also fined $10,000, which he will be allowed to pay in $200 installments per month.

For the next ten years, McGee will have to drive with a restricted license and an ignition interlock device, which has a breathalyzer to prevent a driver from starting their car while intoxicated.

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Margaret Baker is an investigative reporter whose search for truth exposed corrupt sheriffs, a police chief and various jailers and led to the first prosecution of a federal hate crime for the murder of a transgendered person. She worked on the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina team. When she pursues a big story, she is relentless.
Alyssa Newton is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a background in television, radio and print. She’s originally from Dothan, Alabama and has a journalism degree from the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Her passion lies in storytelling, news, sports and a strong espresso.
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