10 years for chef's death

Amy McCormick pleaded guilty to four felony driving under the influence charges Thursday. She caused an accident that took the life of Brett Maynard and injured his wife.

The voices of two women, one a victim and the other a defendant, quavered with emotion inside a Charleston County courtroom Thursday afternoon.

Their halting speech revealed how each is struggling to cope with an alcohol-infused, head-on car crash at the crest of the James Island Connector in November.

They showed how a series of bad decisions by one can scar so many forever.

Jill Maynard told how she lost her husband, Brett, as well as the temporary use of her legs and possibly her career in the restaurant business.

Amy Finch McCormick, who was driving drunk on the wrong side of the highway, apologized to Maynard and others, including her 4-year-old son, whose spine was fractured in the crash.

Her lawyer explained how McCormick was pregnant at the time of the wreck and later decided to have the child and give it up for adoption because "she wanted something good to come out of this tragedy."

After McCormick pleaded guilty to three felony driving under the influence charges, Circuit Judge Thomas Houghston sentenced her to 10 years in prison for the felony driving under the influence that led to a death.

"There's a lot I can say, and nothing I can say will be adequate to address the tragedy of this situation on both sides," he said.

The accident occurred at 1:18 a.m. Nov. 30, when Jill Maynard's car was approaching the top of the connector just as McCormick's car was approaching from the other side, going the wrong way on the divided highway. There was little room or time for either to get out of the way.

Maynard was driving home with her husband Brett, a popular local chef who had just gotten off work at 39 Rue de Jean. He suffered a severed spinal cord and a brain hemorrhage and was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Thursday, Jill Maynard steadied herself on the rail of the empty jury box as she walked slowly, and with a limp, to the solicitor's podium.

"This is very difficult for me to be here and to see the face of the person who did this to me and to Brett for the first time," Maynard said. "Brett and I were trying to start our own family. ... She took that from us."

Maynard shattered her right foot and also broke an ankle in the crash and said she will need more surgeries. "My injuries continue to be difficult for me," she said.

Brett's mother Ann Jones said the tragedy should never have happened. "We are all going to live with this the rest of our lives, and it will never ever be the same," she said.

Jones and Maynard joined Assistant Solicitor Greg Voigt's call for the maximum sentence of 25 years on the charge of felony DUI with a death involved.

Voigt also noted that McCormick's blood alcohol level was 0.214, more than twice the legal limit. She said she had several glasses of wine and had taken Fluoxetine, a Prozac substitute the day before the crash. McCormick, who was led into court in handcuffs and a gray detention-center suit, also had a record of driving drunk. She pleaded guilty twice in Mecklenburg County, N.C., in 1999 to driving while impaired.

McCormick first apologized to Jill Maynard, telling her, "I can't even imagine the pain and suffering you're going through."

She said her decision to put her second child up for adoption, which she did just a few weeks ago, is as close a sense of loss of what Maynard is experiencing. She also apologized to her husband and son Zachary, neither of whom were in the courtroom.

Her attorney, Ted Smith, said McCormick has struggled with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and depression, and felt pressure as she and her husband struggled to keep their Charlotte home during a downturn in the construction industry.

The Rev. Msgr. Ed Lofton counseled McCormick while she was in the county jail and helped her with the adoption of her second child. "I think there's a clear possibility here of putting a life back together," he said.

Houghston said the crime was rooted in alcohol, and he could find no criminal intent on McCormick's part. He sentenced her to 10 years on the felony DUI with death charge and 10 years, to run concurrently, on each of the two other felony DUI with great bodily injury charges. She also was sentenced to one year on a charge of child endangerment, again to run concurrently. She will be required to serve at least 8 1/2 years in prison.

Houghston said it was obvious McCormick needed treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, as her defenders requested. "The bad part is it comes too late for a lot of folks," he said. "There's nothing I can do about that."