HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — Jurors delivered a verdict of not guilty against a man charged in connection with the hit-and-run crash that killed UNC sports broadcaster Stephen Gates.
Rabah Samara faced felony and misdemeanor hit-and-run charges in connection with Gates' death. Members of the Gates family cried in court after hearing the verdict.
After the verdict, Samara told the Gates family that he was sorry for their loss and hugged Gates' parents, saying "God bless you."
George Gates, Stephen's father, said he did not know justice would be so hard to find.
"It appears to me that in this case, behavior does not have any consequences, and it is very, very hard to take because my son did not walk away," he said.
Samara declined to talk after the trial, but his attorneys said Gates' death was a tragic accident that no one would get over anytime soon.
Earlier in the day, Samara testified that he had been drinking heavily that night in October 2003 and fell asleep in the passenger seat of a Cadillac Escalade. He said he woke up after hearing a loud noise.
Samara told jurors at that point, Emily Caveness, who was driving the vehicle, was hysterical. Samara said he told her to pull over. Samara said he got out and saw the damage to the Cadillac Escalade and assumed they'd hit a deer.
Prosecutor Carl Fox, though, pointed out that two truckers saw the accident and told Samara he had hit Gates, who was trying to change a flat tire on his vehicle.
Samara told jurors he had been tired, scared, confused and disoriented. He said his only objective was to calm down Caveness and the other two passengers and go home. He switched seats with Caveness and drove away from the scene.
Samara tearfully told jurors "that one second of my life, I wish I'd been awake and sober." He also said he wished that he had gone back to try to save Gates.
Caveness reached a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for her testimony. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor failure to report an accident. She will be sentenced after the trial, but the most she could get would be some kind of community service.