One of the main reasons people were so upset about the way the Tobesofkee case was handled was due to a strong feeling by many in the community that the power and economic influence of Dr. Ghali’s employer, Mercer University, had exerted some influence on authorities which resulted in a double standard over the way someone not affiliated with Mercer would have been treated.
There is no evidence to prove or disprove that theory, but I had multiple people leave comments or contacted me directly to argue this was likely the case. They postulated that calls had been made to ask the Sheriff’s office to go easy on both the Ghali sons not only at Tobesofkee but in several other cases.
Yet again we have the son of a prominent Mercer employee. Mercer Basketball Coach Bob Hoffman’s son (Grant Hoffman) just pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and vehicular homicide in Bibb County Superior Court when his girlfriend was killed while Hoffman was driving.
His punishment? No jail time, he gets first offender status and probation and can keep his driver’s license! A commenter on our Facebook page observed that if you stole a pair of socks from Wal-Mart you would likely get a harsher punishment than Grant Hoffman received for a reckless homicide.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the family of the deceased didn’t ask for or want jail time. But even taking that into consideration this deal seems almost too good to be true.
”Based upon the weather conditions at the time of the crash, visibility and road conditions, the defendant’s driving was legally reckless,” Cooke said. “His failure to drive the vehicle at the posted speed limit and instead drive it almost two times faster, at night on a dark, curvy, slick two lane road was the direct cause of Ms. Hinson’s death.”
The investigators said Hoffman drove more than 40 miles per hour over the speed limit and then lost control of his car, and killed his girlfriend Abigail Hinson, 17, on Zebulon Road in July 2014. Judge Howard Simms sentenced Hoffman to seven years probation. This is the same judge that has his own troubled past behind the wheel. (Superior Court Judge Howard Simms investigated for DUI after stop at roadblock)
In terms of culpability in the death of 17 year old Abigail Hinson, there is zero doubt that Grant Hoffman solely at fault. Driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit on any road, let alone one like Zebulon Rd. by an inexperienced driver is nearly always going to result in something bad happening. Add to that a slick, wet and curvy road at night with other drivers and numerous obstacles and the risk of a wreck increases exponentially with a teenager at the wheel especially with a passenger.
To be precise he was traveling 88 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. He claims he was trying to dodge a deer but the car recorder shows he didn’t apply the brakes which would be instinctual for most people to slam on brakes when you see a deer or go off the road. Why didn’t he hit the brakes? That seems to be a very important question. Was he distracted, were they arguing, were his eyes even on the road? I can think of no good reason not to apply the brakes if you run off the road if you are paying any attention at all to the road unless you simply weren’t looking at the road to begin with.
So just to reiterate in case this didn’t sink in: He was driving 88MPH on a curvy and wet road at night and claims to have wrecked to dodge a deer yet there are no signs that he ever used the brakes and he gets probation and gets to keep his license which means he can still drive.
Does Macon Have a bad case of Bearfluenza?
Although many in Macon may be reminded of the Ghali case due to the connection of Mercer as the employer of both the fathers, I am also reminded by the nationally famous Affluenza case. In that case the son of some very wealthy parents argued he was the the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the Texas boy. Mercer University’s mascot is a bear hence the “bearfluenza” reference. As wealthy as the Texas kid’s parents were, they are paupers compared to Mercer University. When Mercer growls, Macon authorities cower – if local scuttlebutt is to be be believed.
For the crimes of driving drunk and causing a crash — which killed four people and critically injured two — Couch received no jail time. He was ordered to go to a lockdown treatment facility and sentenced to 10 years’ probation.
Although Grant Hoffman wasn’t drunk, the fact that he was sober when he decided to make not one but an entire series of bad judgements resulting in the death of Abigail Hinson is almost worse in a perverse sort of way. You expect drunks to drive like idiots which is why the penalties against a DUI are (usually) so severe, but a sober person that drives like that is beyond my comprehension.
I have no doubt this was an unintentional and tragic accident and that Grant Hoffman will have to suffer the guilt of Abigail Hinson’s death for the rest of his life. But I also feel that with such a mild slap on the wrist this will not act as a deterrent to other drivers to avoid acting in a similar reckless fashion in the future. More importantly what lesson will it teach Grant Hoffman?
At the very least you would expect his license would be revoked. This sentencing will certainly not do much to change the opinion of many in Macon that if you are connected to Mercer you are far more likely to receive a velvet glove treatment by the authorities.
Americans are keenly aware and become quickly outraged in cases where they think the rich and powerful get preferential treatment. Many already (correctly in my opinion) believe billionaires can buy or influence elections. In Macon, Georgia, Mercer University embodies a rich and influential entity and cases such as these do little to dispel the notion that justice is not always quite so blind or fair when one of their cubs get in trouble.
In fact there’s a widely held perception Mercer University wields more comparable influence in Macon, GA than all the various octogenarian billionaires combined have on national politics by a longshot. Whether true or not, I will let you be the judge. I can say the circumstantial evidence has been mounting as of late.
I am not saying Grant Hoffman should be locked up for years, but I think at a minimum his license should be taken away for a few years and he needs to tell his story to high school and college students around the state in the hope he can prevent this from happening again. Had Abigail Hinson been a stranger and not someone he knew, would that have made a difference?
Everyone makes mistakes, but when it cost the life of someone else through your poor decisions, there should be at least some consequence beyond just a haunting guilt. I hope he will learn from this tragedy and become the safest driver on the road for the rest of his life. But I also can’t help thinking a few months in jail where he can reflect on that poor choice might ensure the lesson stays with him far longer and a year or two off the road might make him understand just how foolish he was by driving at that speed under those conditions.
Teenagers Are The Most dangerous Drivers on the Road
As much as teenagers like to think they are good drivers, they aren’t. They are the worst drivers on the roads. I don’t know a single adult that thinks they were a better driver at 19 than at 39. So if you are a parent with a teenage driver do your part with education, rules, and set limits. Teenagers with another teen passenger for example are far more likely to wreck. Every additional teen or younger passenger doubles the risk of an accident.
Consider buying a dash cam as a condition of driving which can make sure they are more vigilant and increase their odds of respecting the rules of the road. New Technology like dash cams are proven to save lives and ensure a teen drivers will be less likely to speed or be as easily distracted if they know their parent will watch the video and take away their driving privileges if seen texting or speeding. The good news is these dash cams are now extremely affordable now starting at only $14.80 for a basic model.
Geofencing alerts are also a great option for added safety that alert you of location, crashes, swerving, and speeding by a teen driver. MOTOSafety for example lets parents track the location of their teen driver in real time. The system captures key safe driving activities such as speeding, harsh braking and rapid acceleration and gives reports. Using the tool, parents can setup a schedule of approved driving hours and receive alerts when the vehicle is in use after hours.
Had a dash cam been installed and carefully monitored by the parents would this have saved Abigail Hinson’s life? That is impossible to say with any certainty, but any additional step a parent can take to substantially lower the risk of careless driving by a teen seems a small price to pay. Too many teens are killed and kill others on our roads. Technology is now at the point where parents can do more than hope for the best.
Comparing the Ronnie Howard Case
Ronnie Howard: Accidentally killed a toddler while cleaning his gun and it discharged. Originally charged with reckless conduct and second degree cruelty to children. The reckless conduct charge was upgraded to murder by D.A. Cooke’s office for the shooting death of his girlfriend’s 17-month old boy. District Attorney David Cooke said the gun should not have been returned to Howard because of the previous charges. The sheriff’s office said they were not informed that Howard’s gun should not have been returned to him. Defended by Public Defender.
Grant Hoffman: Accidentally killed girlfriend in car accident. He was traveling 88 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. He claims he was trying to dodge a deer but the car recorder shows he didn’t apply the brakes. It was a curvy, wet road at night. Pleads guilty to reckless homicide. Punishment: No jail time, he gets first offender status and probation and can keep his driver’s license. Defended by Private Attorney.
Both are tragic and preventable accidents. Both could have and should have taken steps that could have prevented the tragedies. In both cases the parents of the deceased child asked for leniency and no jail time. Both cases were tragic accidents resulting in the death of people they loved. Guns and vehicles are only ever as safe as the people using them and both are capable of killing people.
Howard, who is poor will have many, many years to consider his mistake in jail if convicted of murder. Hoffman, who is from a wealthy family, will have no jail time and still has his driver’s license and freedom. Both loved the people they killed and will regret it the rest of their lives so that punishment is equal, but when it comes to jail time and the charges something seems terribly unbalanced here. One other difference in the mug shots is one looks terribly distressed and remorseful and one looks a lot less bothered with a smirk.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel D.A. David Cooke’s prosecution and Judge Howard Simms sentencing of this reckless homicide was appropriate? How about the murder charge for Howard, was that too harsh considering it was also an accident? Do you feel there is a double standard of justice in Macon based on your FICO score and connections? Are these completely unrelated or do you see similarities? Let us know in the comments here or on Facebook.