ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. — The driver charged in a deadly school bus wreck in Robeson County last year will not serve any time in jail.
Gary Garnett pleaded no contest Thursday to misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. He was forced to relinquish his personal and business driver's license for 1 year and he will be on probation for six months.
In January, authorities say Garnett was driving a truck for Mountaire Farms in Maxton when he crashed into the back of a school bus, killing 6-year-old Sheila Hernandez, who was boarding the bus. Hernandez's mother was also injured in the accident.
"He got off pretty easy. That's what I say to him. I think he's a lucky man this morning," said Braxton Chavis, who witnessed the accident.
"I think the sentence is unfair because there was a lot of people affected by what he did," said Shawn Bryant, who witnessed the accident. "A lot of lives changed, and this little girl lost her life. This family lost a child."
According to prosecutors, Garnett was looking for a cell phone that had fallen on the floor of the vehicle and he took his eyes off the road. Mountaire Farms later fired Garnett.
Records show Garnett was convicted of dragging a woman beside a car after stealing her purse back in 1999. He was convicted of felony possession of stolen goods and received a suspended sentence.
Garnett also has a 1997 felony conviction on his record as well as several driving offenses.
Earlier this year, the Hernandez family sued Garnett and the company where he worked. The parties settled their lawsuit out of court. Neither side will discuss their agreement.