NEWTON COUNTY, Ga. - It was a few days before Thanksgiving, and 12-year-old Braden Stevenson had already lost track of an early Christmas present in his grandmother’s Covington garage.
Braden had enlisted his friend, Lucas McWilliams, to help catch the present: a pet hamster. He was on the phone with his father when a truck driven by Karlrio Kelsey careened into the garage, killing Braden and seriously injuring his friend. His father heard the boom, then nothing else.
On Monday, Kelsey pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in the Nov. 19, 2018, crash and causing Braden’s death.
The wreck forever changed the lives of three families, Newton County District Attorney Layla Zon told AJC.com.
“This was an incredibly heartbreaking tragedy in our community,” she said, in part, in a statement. “Lucas and Braden were looking for a hamster in the garage, something so childlike and innocent, when the defendant came crashing into that garage and into their bodies. Lives were forever changed, families were separated from their loved ones (including the defendant), and no amount of punishment can restore what has been taken from these two families.”
Kelsey, 34, of Covington, had his own child with him when he lost control of his Dodge Ram, overcorrected and slammed into the garage on Kirkland Road. The structure sat 82 feet from the roadway, according to the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
The vehicle ran over Lucas and pinned Braden against a wall.
Cory Stevenson heard the whole thing. One minute he was giving his son tips on where to look for his lost pet, and the next minute the boy was silent.
“The next thing I know, it just sounded like a crash,” Stevenson previously told Channel 2 Action News. “I could hear everything on the phone. I was crying out for him, and he wasn’t answering.”
Braden was taken to Piedmont Newton Hospital, where he died. Lucas was flown to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Hospital and underwent seven hours of initial surgeries. He has needed several surgeries since, according to his family.
Kelsey was not arrested until Jan. 2 and has been jailed ever since. Before a judge and the victims’ families, Kelsey pleaded guilty Monday to vehicular homicide, serious injury by vehicle, endangering a child while driving under the influence and failure to maintain lane. He was also ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution to Ruth Hockenberry, Braden’s grandmother, for damage to her home.
He was sentenced to 30 years, with the first 15 to be spent in prison and the rest on probation. His negotiated plea came with special conditions, including DUI classes, community service and the suspension of his driver’s license.
“The sentence was appropriately harsh and just and agreed upon by the defendant who expressed remorse over his actions,” Zon said. “I share in the sentiments of Braden’s father who expressed yesterday in his victim impact statement that he hopes something can be learned from this; not only by the defendant, but by those who might see this as a horrific example of what can happen if they choose to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
The Stevenson family is still raising money in memory of Braden and in support of the McWilliams family’s medical expenses. A GoFundMe campaign has garnered $14,000 of its $50,000 goal.
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