James Michael Scogins, 46, of Pell City accepted a plea agreement reached with the state and pleaded to vehicular homicide in the death of police officer Greg Surles.
“He did not admit guilt,” said John Lentine, a Birmingham attorney who represented Scogins. “This was a best interest plea.”
Surles died on July 4, 2008, from injuries sustained in an automobile accident three weeks prior to his death.
At Wednesday’s hearing, St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor said the state’s evidence would show that Scogins, who was driving south along U.S. 231 in a tractor trailer at the time of the accident, was driving in excess of the 55 mph speed limit when he failed to stop at a red light at the intersection of U.S. 231 and Kings Circle/Cropwell Drive. The 1999 International tractor truck, with a 45-foot flat-bed trailer attached, struck the side of the police car Surles was driving.
Surles was transported by Lifesaver helicopter to University Hospital in Birmingham, where he remained in critical condition until the time of his death.
“This is one of those real tragic cases,” Lentine said after Wednesday’s plea and sentencing hearing. “It’s tragic for the Surles family; it’s tragic for the Scogins family…We hope this will bring closure for everyone.”
Scogins was indicted by a grand jury for manslaughter, a Class B felony. If convicted of manslaughter, Scogins could have faced 2-20 years in prison. Vehicular homicide only carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Scogins declined to make any statements before St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hill sentenced him.
Hill sentenced Scogins to serve five years in prison, but split his sentence to serve one year, one day in prison, and the remaining four years on supervised probation.
Hill also revoked Scogins driving license for one year.
Scogins was taken into custody immediately after Wednesday’s hearing.
Minor said the Surles family agreed to the plea offered worked out between Scogins’ defense attorney and the state.
“Greg was a son, husband, dad and friend who dedicated his life to serving his community and his death affected many of us,” Minor said after the hearing. “There is never complete closure when a loved one is taken in such a tragic manner. Hopefully with the plea entered today by Mr. Scogins, the Surles family, Greg’s friends and fellow co-workers can continue in their healing process.”
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