Street racer pleads guilty in spectators' deaths
Posted March 16
Smithfield, N.C. — A Zebulon man wept Thursday as he pleaded guilty to killing four spectators two years ago during a drag race in Johnston County.
Jimmy Pearce II, 39, of 11557D N.C. Highway 39, was sentenced to 3½ to 6 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He initially was charged with second-degree murder in the case.
According to investigators and witnesses, Pearce was racing another vehicle on Simon Road, near Middlesex, on July 12, 2015, when Pearce lost control of his 1989 Ford Mustang near Buckhorn Drive and veered into a crowd of more than a dozen spectators.
Carlton Ray Brooks, 42, Undra Montrell Taybron, 40, Garland Earp, 39, and Arrington Earp, 23, were killed in the crash. Larry Deans, Roncellis Marshall and Ida Mae Rapa were injured.
Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Jordan Ford said Pearce stayed at the scene to help those who were hurt even though he also suffered minor injuries when his Mustang hit a tree after careening through the crowd.
Pearce tearfully apologized Thursday to relatives of the victims.
"I lost friends," he said. "I'm here to accept my responsibility."
Sonya Earp said her family "will forever be changed" by the crash, which claimed the lives of her younger brother and her only son.
"I'm not here to tell you I hate Mr. Pearce. I just want him to pay for what he did," Earp said. "I don't think he did it on purpose, but he killed four people – four good people."
Brooks' mother, Katy Scarborough, likewise said Pearce needed to be held accountable for the crash and that a message needed to be sent to the drag-racing community.
Defense attorney Mike Reece said the race was intended to be entertainment, but racing is illegal "because of the inherent risk."
"Everyone knew it was illegal, but (Pearce) is the only one who will be prosecuted," Reece said.
Ford said the second driver in the race has never been identified.
"This is just a tragedy for all parties involved," Superior Court Judge Doug Parsons said, noting the crash affected "eight good people, four of whom are no longer here."
Parsons told Ford he hopes authorities can find the second driver and bring him or her to justice.
Pearce's wife sobbed loudly in court as her husband, described by supporters as an honest and reliable carpenter and a gentle giant of a man, was led off to prison.
"It seems quite unfair that he has to go serve his time and there's someone else out there who gets off scot free. It's unfortunate," said Steve Lustgarten, a former employer of Pearce.