CAIRO — A Grady County judge sentenced Anna Marie McBride to three years in state prison for her involvement in a January 2019 wreck that took the life of Thomasville High School senior Levi Knop.
Thursday morning's court session was originally scheduled to include motion hearings in McBride's case, but court was instead called to order for McBride to submit a negotiated guilty plea to one count of first degree vehicular homicide, one count of reckless driving and one count of speeding.
Superior Court Judge Heather Lanier sentenced McBride to 15 years, three of which will be in state custody. The remaining 12 will be served on probation.
Lanier largely accepted the state's suggested sentence of 15 years, three being in state custody, but with an addendum — McBride is also to pay a $10,000 fine and serve 500 hours of community service. At least 150 of McBride's community service hours must be spent sharing her story to young drivers as a warning not to drive recklessly.
McBride, who turns 19 on Friday, began weeping uncontrollably as a law enforcement officer placed her in handcuffs and led her outside the courtroom.
Prior to being taken into custody, McBride told Knop's family "how very sorry (she was) for the accident that happened that terrible, terrible day." She added that she was thankful for the positive impact that Knop, 18 at the time of his death, left during life.
District Attorney Joe Mulholland said both students were on their way to school the morning of Jan. 29, 2019 when the accident occurred. McBride, who had been running late for class, reached speeds as high as 116.8 mph in the moments just before she struck Knop in the rear.
The collision caused Knop's vehicle to careen off the side of the road where he struck a tree. The impact shook Knop violently, and he quickly began bleeding out.
In her impact statement, Knop's mother Joy said that her son expressed his love for her in his final moments.
"We are the ones who have been sentenced," she said.
"We were handed a life sentence for something we didn't do: a life without Levi."
Mulholland said McBride originally told investigators that Knop "aggressively swerved" in front of her vehicle, but the district attorney said a specialized collision reconstruction team (SCRT) found that assertion to be "absolutely untrue." The state said that Knop had in fact made a last-ditch attempt to move out of McBride's way, but was unsuccessful.
Knop was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision. No defects were found with either vehicle, and there was no indication that either individual had been using an electronic device prior to the crash.
In the year since Levi's death, Joy Knop said she panics almost daily when thinking of ways her son could have been saved. She said she regretted she was unable to celebrate her son's 19th birthday, which would have taken place Dec. 11.
Knop's family was joined by dozens of others, several of whom wore shirts that said "Live Like Levi." In their impact statements, Knop's family described the high school baseball star as a loving son who took school seriously and had just received an acceptance letter from Georgia Southern the weekend before his death.
"I thank God every day for the time that He had given me with Levi," Knop's father Marshall said.
Knop's family also asked the court not to sentence McBride as a first-time offender, a wish which Lanier adhered to. McBride was further ordered not to have contact with Knop's family or with any other individuals who read victim impact statements Thursday.
Knop's mother also expressed frustration with a series of social media posts by McBride in the year after Levi's death which she characterized as appearing insufficiently remorseful.
McBride's stepfather, Jeremy Poole, said McBride was simply following her parents' advice to live her life as normally as possible.
Poole said McBride, who admitted to Lanier that she has struggled with depression, has often spoken about wishing she was the one who had died in last year's accident.
"I've seen the pain and impact that Levi's death has caused her," said Laura Elizabeth Clark, McBride's friend and college roommate.
Jon Forehand, McBride's legal counsel, said she had been advised not to reach out to Knop's family due to the legal nature of the matter, but that her actions were never meant to appear disrespectful.
Rather, Forehand said what occurred was simply the mistake of an 18-year-old girl who was running late to school
"There's no one in this room who would want to be judged by their worst possible moment," he said.
As part of her sentence, McBride's license was also revoked. She will be subject to drug and alcohol testing during her probation.
Thursday's sentencing marks the end of a nearly year-long legal drama. Many of those in attendance in the Grady County courthouse were in tears as McBride was taken into custody.
"I've practiced law for 30 years, and this is a case I will never forget," Forehand said.