In the end, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he couldn’t understand what led former Richmond Hill High School honor student and HOPE scholar Patricia Ann Collins to get behind the wheel on June 15, 2012, after drinking heavily at bars in Savannah.
“I just don’t get it. It just doesn’t make sense … there are probably some answers I’ll never get,” Walmsley said, shortly before he sentenced Collins, 25, to seven years in jail and eight years probation for the 2012 crash on I-95 that killed Bryan County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Bobby Crapse.
Collins, who pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle, faced a maximum of 15 years in prison for the crash, which occurred shortly after she’d consumed a list of alcoholic drinks – including a Long Island Iced Tea and a drink called the Mind Eraser – at two Savannah nightclubs before heading home.
Collins wound up driving south in the northbound lanes of I-95 around 2 a.m., just as Crapse, 32, and fellow deputy Cpl. Seth Strickland were getting off shift and heading to the north end of the county in their respective cars, with Crapse’s car in the lead.
The resulting crash killed the popular deputy and left Collins, who had a blood alcohol content of .139, hospitalized for months.
At Tuesday’s open plea hearing in a packed Savannah courtroom, Collins, who graduated with honors from Georgia Tech in 2011, spoke for the first time publicly about the incident, apologizing to both the Crapse family and her own for letting them down.
She spoke for more than seven minutes and tearfully read aloud a letter she’d written to Crapse’s parents, Becky and Stephen, and other family members while also apologizing to her own parents, Chief Warrant Officer Ray Collins and Kimberly Collins.
“My family is the one thing that has kept me going,” Patricia Ann Collins said. ““My parents are good hard-working people who strove to give me and my brothers everything we could ever need or want.”
She said she hoped to someday regain their trust.
“Seeing my family’s faces hurts me deeply,” Collins said. “I apologize to them for letting them down so deeply. Their unconditional love and support … has been extraordinary, and I hope I will be able to repay their love ...”
Collins, who stopped frequently to wipe her eyes and regain her composure, then turned to the Crapses.
“Coming myself from a loving family, I cannot imagine the pain you have faced and will continue to face,” she said. “I wish, however, I could take away the pain and devastation … I have wished … that Bobby was here instead of me.”
She went on.
“I am sorry for the pain I have caused and making Bobby the sufferer for my mistake,” she said. “I’m sorry he won’t know his children, sorry his parents have to lose a child they brought into this world. Sorry to take away a husband, father, son, brother, partner and friend and so many things he was to so many people.”
As for answers, she didn’t have any, she told the courtroom.
Collins was the last witness to testify in the hearing, which opened with deputies Tripp Meacham and Strickland and Pembroke Police Department Sgt. Matt Lynn talking about the impact Crapse’s death had on them personally and as law enforcement officers.
“It’s tragic he lost his life doing something he so adamantly tried to prevent,” Strickland said, calling the event “a complete, utter, tragic loss.”
Prosecutors also showed a replay of the video from Strickland’s car as he followed Crapse’s cruiser up I-95 as a car in the southbound lane began flashing its headlights. In the video, there is a brief moment where Crapse turned on his emergency lights, then his car ran head on into Collins’ Toyota in a jarring impact that caused members of Crapses’ family to cry out and led Walmsley to call a brief recess.
There was little additional evidence released at the hearing — neither Collins nor Crapse were wearing seatbelts, and Collins was doing around 44 mph and never braked before her car struck Crapse’s squad car.
Crapse was going around 87 mph in the seconds before the impact, and defense attorneys suggested he would’ve had more time to react had he been going slower.
Georgia State Patrol Trooper Roger Cason, a member of the GSP’s specialized accident reconstruction team, testified said it didn’t lead to the accident. Any suggestion it might have been a contributing factor was speculation, prosecutor Frank Pennington II said.
“This is a matter that is not up for speculation,” he said. “No intoxicated driver driving the wrong way on 95 that night — no crash, right?”
“Right,” Cason said.
Also speaking out at the hearing was Crapse’s mother, Becky Crapse, who said she wanted Collins to get the maximum sentence.
“To me you’re no better than the shooter at Sandy Hook, the only difference is your car was the gun and you were the bullet,” she said, looking at Collins. “I hope they use you as an example not to drive drunk … You were never a victim, you were always a murderer.”