The teenage driver charged in the crash that killed three Bellbrook High School students in 2012 changed his plea in juvenile court Wednesday to “take responsibility for what he had done,” his attorney said.
Jesse “Tate” Whitaker entered an admission in Greene County Juvenile Court to the eight charges against him, including vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter and failure to control. All charges were misdemeanors, and he had originally entered a plea of denial to the charges. Whitaker was 17 at the time of the crash.
Julianna Hawk, 14; Sophie Kerrigan, 17; and Skylar Kooken, 16, all Bellbrook High School students, were riding inside the extended cab of a Dodge pickup truck traveling on Wagner Road near Oleva Drive in Sugarcreek Twp. when the vehicle crashed into a tree in the early morning of Nov. 4, 2012. They were killed. Two other students were injured.
Mark Babb, Whitaker’s attorney, said his client changing his plea was “the right thing to do.”
“It’s what he wanted to do all along,” Mark Babb said.
Whitaker could be sentenced to incarceration, parole or community service.
Lisa Sikorski, Julianna Hawk’s aunt, said community service would be a suitable punishment.
“I’d like to see him talk to schools,” she said. “I want to prevent this with other children. If he can save one other family the hell that we’ve gone through, then lets prevent that.
“I think it was very giving of Jesse to plead guilty and not put the families through a trial,” she added. “I don’t want to see him suffer. I (already) know he’s going to suffer for the rest of his life … just like we all are.”
Babb said the case has “been traumatic for the families of the lost children more than anybody else. There’s no kind of pain that can compare to that.”
Babb said the court process has been hard on Whitaker, as well.
“He’s never been to my office and not sobbed openly when we start talking about the case,” he said. “He’s heart sick. He’s a sensitive kid. He certainly will live with this for the rest of his life.”
Whitaker sobbed softly during Wednesday morning’s hearing. His voice quivered as he answered basic questions from Judge Robert Hutcheson.
No sentencing date was set.
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