CHAPEL HILL – As a teenager, many decisions are made on your impulse and need for gratification, said District Court Judge Charles Anderson in the Hillsborough Courthouse on Thursday to Collin Parker Lunsford, a recent graduate of Orange High School.
Lunsford, of Little River Church Road in Hillsborough, pleaded guilty to a vehicle speed competition, resulting in the death of Kacie Chamberlain, 16, and Chase Underhill, 16, on December 29, 2012.
Lunsford was charged with four misdemeanor charges initially; the court dismissed two deaths by motor vehicle charges; his other two charges of reckless driving and pre-arranged speed competition initially stood.
According to Lunsford’s Defense Attorney, Sam Coleman, Lunsford saw Underhill and Chamberlain, along with two other passengers, while driving. Lunsford and Underhill then agreed to a race on Little River Church Road. Both driving pickup trucks, Underhill lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree off the road. The accident occurred at 10:30 p.m.
Lunsford stayed at the scene until McCray Williams, 15, and Sam Whaley, 16, the other two passengers in Underhill’s vehicle, were airlifted to Duke University Medical Hospital.
Williams and Whaley had injuries, but are recovering.
Coleman said none of the passengers in Underhill’s truck were wearing seat belts.
On Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman announced that the speed competition was not pre-arranged. The charge was moved down from a Class 1 to a Class 2 misdemeanor, for a non-prearranged speed competition.
Nieman said Lunsford’s lack of a criminal record and willingness to take responsibility also factored into the verdict.
Underhill’s mother, April Davis, spoke in court on Thursday.
“One of the things I needed to say is you can’t know what it feels like to be the mother of Chase right now,” said Davis. “He loved Kacie and he’d do anything to protect her.”
Davis said she forgave Lunsford while visiting the Whaley home.
“If we can save one family from going through our pain, then it’s worth it,” said Davis.
Coleman said Lunsford was seventeen when the incident happened. He told the court since two days after the wreck, he has not driven a car.
Judge Anderson said it is easier to forgive a mistake than to not learn from a mistake. He said he wants the incident to serve as a lesson and that money and jail time will not keep other kids from recklessly driving.
Lunsford must pay a court cost of $110 for reckless driving; he must serve eighteen months of probation; and his two charges dictate 30 days in jail, each; but the jail time is suspended, unless Lunsford violates his probation.
Judge Anderson ruled that, in December, Lunsford must present a program or curriculum about teenage driving safety to be implemented throughout the Orange County school system, police department, and other jurisdictions. He said he must share his work with his lawyers and social worker, Peter Kramer. And, he said the program is intended to teach teens to be careful on the roads and avoid racing and speeding.
“This project is to provide light at the end of the tunnel,” said Judge Anderson.