Tuesday, December 06, 2016 - Updated: 2:47 PM
By Rachel Keller
William H. Wheeler, Jr., 58, of Benton, was remanded to the Department of Corrections last week and sentenced to serve 15 years in a state penitentiary, but not before facing two of Margaret Jane Poe’s children. On the evening of Dec. 12, 2015, Margaret Jane Poe, 80, of Benton, was riding in a van driven by her husband, John Edward Poe, with Jim and Nancy Long as passengers. According to statements made by the family during last week’s hearing, the four were traveling in the Poes’ vehicle toward Benton to meet friends for dinner when their van was struck, head-on, by Wheeler’s vehicle. Three were badly injured but Mrs. Poe died due to injuries received from the collision.
In late Sept. as it was beginning to look more and more like the case was headed for trial, Wheeler surprised prosecutors and the Poe family when following a mediation session he pleaded guilty and accepted an offer. Wheeler was charged with one count of Manslaughter 2nd degree, a Class C felony; four counts of Wanton Endangerment 1st degree, Class D felonies; and two counts of Assault 2nd degree, Class C felonies, for which he was sentenced to serve 15 years in a state penitentiary.
Two of Poe’s sons, Jeffrey and Eddie, spoke on behalf of their family at the hearing last week, verbally addressing the great and tragic loss of not only their mother, but their father, who they believe also, indirectly, died as a result of the accident. They said losing a companion after a 65-year marriage was “too much pain” for their dad and he died six months after the collision of natural causes.
“Dad died less than six months after the defendant killed my mom,” Jeffrey said. “Family and friends, we all feel that the death of mom caused dad to age many years and because of that, we believe Dad died from a broken heart. Within a six-month period we lost a mom and a dad, a grandma and a granddad, a sister and a brother, a good friend, servants of God. We’re forever broken-hearted.”
Jeffrey also read, through a choking voice and tears, a letter written by his father, John Edward, dated March 5, 2016, which was approximately three months after the collision and approximately three months before John passed away.
The letter read in part: “I was injured in the wreck and had to be hospitalized, treated, I have recovered physically. My wife was hospitalized with injuries and died of her injuries that night. Although my injuries have healed, what was taken from me that night is beyond what you will ever know. Jane and me would have been married 65 years on Dec. 30, 2015. I will never get over the pain and suffering you caused to her that night.”
Jameson also allowed Wheeler the opportunity to speak but Wheeler allowed his attorney, Andrea Moore with the Dept. of Public Advocay, to speak on his behalf.
“Mr. Wheeler has spent around 250 days in jail up to this point and while he’s been in jail he’s had a lot of time to reflect on what occurred and I heard the victim’s family state that they haven’t seen a tear pass his eye, well I have so I know that he is remorseful,” Moore said. “Mr. Wheeler has a lot of health problems and on the night of the incident, he had been prescribed quite a bit of drugs for those health problems. He wasn’t under the influence of alcohol; he was taking his prescribed medication. Now by him getting out and wrecking a vehicle was that a wise decision, perhaps not; but he is remorseful, he’s done quite a bit of jail time, he’s extremely sorry for what his actions have caused.”
Moore requested the court consider probating the remainder of Wheeler’s sentence since he had spent 250 days in jail but Jameson denied that request, saying due to the seriousness of the crime that caused the death of another person, he believed imprisonment was a better suited punishment.
Jameson said, “It’s my opinion you accepted responsibility very quickly after the last mediation session. You came in here and even though I warned you that you were making a decision that was severely going to impact you for the rest of your life, you insisted on going forward and accepting responsibility and it appeared to me you wanted to show the family members that something like this would never happen again. I hope that’s the case but that will be after you serve your prison sentence.”