RALEIGH, N.C. — Chris Petersen pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle and one count of excessive speed in connection with a fatal accident on Interstate 540 on May 30, 2001.
Petersen faced four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of four teenagers -- Bryan Reaves, Jamie Brewer, Mike Smith and Matthew Yurcak. He faced up to eight years in prison, but under the plea agreement and the fact that he does not have a prior criminal record, he will not go to jail.
"I would like to apologize to all the people that were involved and my responsibility in their loss," Petersen said.
Petersen was given a suspended sentence of 90 days, three years of supervised probation and 490 hours of community service. He will also lose his drivers license for three years.
Prosecutors said Petersen was racing with the teens at the time of the accident. Defense attorneys claimed the teens were not racing and Petersen was not responsible for the teens' death.
Hamed Allen, who was in Petersen's car the night of the accident, told jurors Wednesday that he told the people in the car to not tell anyone that there was a race. Allen said he lied to investigators about the case because he was scared and he wanted to protect Reaves' reputation.
"If I was driving and I got into that wreck, it would not surprise a lot of people. But if Bryan Reaves was driving and got into that wreck, it is going to blow your mind as you know it because this is the kid who stopped at every stop sign, who wouldn't go 5 mph over the speeding limit," Allen said. "[He was a] great kid, great student, great friend, kind-hearted. It just wasn't Bryan Reaves."
Allen testified in court that coming forward about the incident helped him to get a felony drug charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cruden said he did not know about the deal made to Allen. He believed that admission was too damaging to move the case forward.
"There was obviously some confusion between the District Attorney's Office and the Raleigh Police Department as to deals that were given to a particular witness, and I think that it sort of smelled and it caused the DA to offer a deal that we had been looking for some time now, but they never offered," defense attorney Rick Gammon said.
The families of the victims agreed to the plea, but their emotions showed in the courtroom.
"I don't want him to hurt anyone else. I don't want him to be able to drive," said Meredith Yurcak, Matthew's sister. "If he did this once, he will do it again. "He should not be allowed to drive on the road."
"I forgive you, but come out of this a better person. I know you can. I know you can," said Irma Reaves, Bryan's mother.
After the sentencing, family members of the victims said they were not disappointed about the plea, but they just wanted Petersen to admit his role in the crash.