It took a Laurens County jury just under 90 minutes Thursday at the Hillcrest Judicial Complex to convict Pamela Michelle Tackett of Gray Court on two counts of felony DUI and on a related charge of child endangerment.
Afterward, Circuit Judge Roger Couch sentenced Tackett to 15 years in prison for felony DUI with death in the I-385 killing of Zach Ivey of Spartanburg and seven years for severely injuring John “J.C.” Howell. The two sentences will run concurrently along with a seven-year sentence for child endangerment. Couch also ordered Tackett to pay mandatory fines totaling $15,000.
The felony DUI charges are classified as violent crimes under South Carolina law, so Tackett, 32, will serve a minimum of 85% – 12 years, nine months – of her sentence. Felony DUI with death carries a maximum penalty of 25 years, while felony DUI with injury carries a penalty ranging from 30 days to 15 years in jail.
Ivey and Howell were working for Bagwell Fence Company near Exit 19 on I-385 on March 28, 2018 when Tackett drove off the road and into the median, striking Ivey and Hackett as her vehicle wedged itself between a work truck and the catch fence the workmen were there to repair. Ivey, who died days later at Greenville Memorial Hospital, was thrown some 75 feet onto I-385 at impact, and Howell suffered serious injuries to his legs and lower extremities that has required months of rehabilitation and recovery.
The prosecution proved to the jury that Tackett was under the influence of a variety of prescription drugs, including Gabapentin and a variety of six-to-eight drugs taken for migraine headaches, blood pressure issues and mood stabilization.
While Tackett’s first trial ended with a hung jury after several hours of deliberation, the jury of nine women and three men decided her fate in relative short order Thursday afternoon.
After the verdict was read, Tackett said she blacked out while driving northbound on I-385 with a 4-year-old child in the backseat of her SUV.
“I don’t know what happened that day,” she said emotionally. “I wish I could take it back. I’m so sorry for what happened.”
She said she did not know that she could get a DUI from taking prescription drugs.
Defense attorney David Stoddard reminded Couch that Tackett had no criminal background prior to her arrest by the South Carolina Highway Patrol following the accident. Two post-trial motions by Stoddard, including one asking for a new trial, were denied by Couch.
Howell, who was visibly angry after the conclusion of the first trial, slumped forward head in his hands after the verdict was read as members of both families wept.
Jeremy Case, Ivey’s older brother, said his family was relieved.
“We were pleased with the verdict, yes,” Case said. “The prosecution worked really hard and did a good job this time around. It’s like the judge said, no amount of sentences is going to undo what was done, and I understand that. … I’m glad that we got a little closure for the families.”