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Fayette Daily News
By Cindy Morley
“I feel as if in the last two hours I have made two new best friends and lost two best friends. It tears my heart apart.
“If you had been drinking you would go to jail.”
Melissa Painter, 26, stood quietly in front of Fayette County State Court Judge Fletcher Sams Tuesday as he sentenced her to two years probation for a March car crash that killed two men in Peachtree City.
Painter gasped as Sams added 1,000 hours of community service — with at least half of it being served in a hospital.
“You can look at this as a punishment or as a way to serve as a tribute to these two men,” said Sams. “My prayers is that you choose the latter.”
Sams handed down his sentence after an emotional hearing that lasted more than two hours as family and friends of Lennie Dunn and John Minaberry took the stand one-by-one to talk about the impact their friends’ death had on them.
Many also asked the court for a stricter sentenced than the one recommended by the state. Others simply asked for justice.
As part of his sentence, Sams also ordered Painter to pay a $2,000 fine and suspended her driver’s license for five years.
She was also ordered to continue all counseling, and stay away from businesses where family members of the victims work.
“I think sometimes we look and don’t seen, listen and don’t hear, and touch but don’t feel,” said Sams. “I believe on that day, you were in a hurry and looked but didn’t see.
“I have been concerned in the past with what I perceived as a lack of remorse on your part, but my opinion has changed.
“I believe you have remorse but don’t display it like the average person.
“We all have some personal demons and we have to deal with them. It seems you were taught to deal with yours with a bottle.”
According to State Solicitor General Jamie Inagawa, there was no alcohol in Painter’s blood sample taken after the crash. However, three types of anti-depressants were found in that sample, although they were determined to be within therapeutic levels, he said.
Peachtree City Police charged Painter with vehicular homicide and failure to yield right of way in the March 28 wreck that killed Dunn and Minaberry.
Police said Painter caused the accident by turning left into the path of the car driven by Dunn at the intersection of Hwy 74 and Aberdeen Parkway.
“According to State Solicitor General Jamie Inagawa, there was no alcohol in Painter’s blood sample taken after the crash. However, three types of anti-depressants were found in that sample, although they were determined to be within therapeutic levels, he said.”
According to court reports, Painter also was arrested months after the crash in Peachtree City and charged with DUI.
She was sentenced to 60 days in jail for that offense.
“I miss him so much,” said Patricia Mitchell, sister of Lennie Dunn.
“As a brother, he was one in a million. My memories will guide me through the rest of my life.”
“We ask for justice tempered with mercy,” said Pastor Justin Kollmeyer of the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church where both men attended church.,
“We have prayed for Melissa Painter in our church, and will continue to do so, but the debt must be paid.”
Kollmeyer also told the court about the night the call came into the church.
“I went to one hospital to see John and Knox Hearndon went to another to see Lennie,” he said.
“We both experienced a scene that was horrible — something you wouldn’t want to see.
“I’ll go when I’m called, but I don’t want to go. “I know accidents happen, but she has shown a disregard for the law.”
Diane Minaberry, wife of John Minaberry, showed a video featuring her late husband.
“I want Melissa Painter to see the man John was and see a sampling of the people who loved him.”
Painter lowered her head many times while the video played, then gasped when a picture of Dunn’s crushed and demolished car was shown on the screen.
Diane Minaberry said her husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer prior to the wreck that took his life.
“Some people have said at least he didn’t suffer,” she said.
“During the six days he was in ICU at Grady, he suffered so much. It was so hard you couldn’t stand to watch it.”
Dunn’s two step-daughters also talked about how their lives had changed since that day when they got the call.
“He was my step-dad, he was my dad and he was my life,” said Amy Royal.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.”
Painter’s attorney, Steve Harris, read a letter of apology written by Painter prior to the sentencing.
“I re-live this tragedy every night when I lay down to sleep,” Harris read.
“From the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry. If I could change this I would.”