Man gets 12 years in fatal vehicle crash: Family of victims says sentence doesn't match the crime

Leonard Bernard Gregory

Johnny and Betty Vice's children wondered in court whether the convicted drug dealer who crashed into their parents could have saved their lives -- if only he'd stuck around at the accident scene.

Leonard Gregory Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to two charges of reckless homicide and two charges of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. Facing up to 10 years on each reckless homicide charge and up to 25 on each leaving the scene charge, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Gregory's attorney said her client had suffered life-threatening injuries in the wreck and asked for mercy on the second set of charges. But after the hearing, dozens of members of the Vice family gathered outside the Charleston County courthouse and criticized the sentence.

"Twelve years? For two murders? They give drug dealers more time than that," said the couple's son, Kellam Vice.

Johnny Vice, a 63-year-old merchant mariner, and Betty Vice, a 62-year-old teacher, had gone for a Sunday drive downtown the day of the 2009 accident. Gregory, 23 years old at the time and fresh out of prison, blew through a stop sign. A police officer tried to pull him over.

Gregory hit the gas and his vehicle hit the Vices' car near Hampton Park, according to Assistant Solicitor Greg Voigt. Friends inside Gregory's borrowed car ran from the accident, and by the time backup officers arrived, Gregory, too, was gone.

Voigt said Gregory flagged down a driver and asked that person to take him to Summerville Medical Center, but the driver stopped at Trident Medical Center, still 22 miles from the accident -- which happened near two downtown emergency rooms.

Johnny Vice died at he scene and Betty Vice died at Medical University Hospital.

One by one, the Vices' children and stepchildren stood up in court Wednesday to describe their parents as the foundation of their family and their individual lives.

D'Angelo Shaw said his father used to bring young men in off the streets and teach them to become merchant mariners. Diane Shaw started every day talking on the phone with her mother and becomes anxious now every time it rings. Tamara London called Gregory selfish.

"He could've been the deciding factor in their fate, but we'll never know because he ran," London said.

Gregory's attorney, Marybeth Mullaney, said her client left the scene because of his own broken leg and loss of consciousness. Since the accident, he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and dreams about his victims, she said.

"He acted impulsively. He acted stupidly. But he didn't act intentionally," Mullaney said.

Gregory, known as "The Fridge" for his large stature and his years as a basketball and football player at Burke High School, apologized to the Vices' family and said that he initially fled from police because he feared returning to prison. He had served time for possessing, manufacturing and trafficking cocaine.

Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston sentenced him to nine years on each reckless homicide charge, to be served concurrently, and three years on each leaving the scene charge, to be served concurrently.