After a weeklong trial, a jury found a man guilty in a 2017 hit-and-run that killed one person and seriously injured a second.
Ronald Jason Gibson, 40, was found guilty of a hit-and-run resulting in death, a hit-and-run resulting in serious injury and reckless driving. Gibson also pled guilty to a charge of habitual felon. He had three charges between 1997 and 2005.
Gibson was sentenced to 83-112 months for each of the hit-and-run charges by Superior Court Judge Lynn Gullett. One sentence will be served at the expiration of the other. The sentence for reckless driving was consolidated with the other two.
On June 1, 2017, Sarah Sutton Bell of New Bern, was ejected from the motorcycle on which she was a passenger. The driver, Warren Earl Sumrell, also of New Bern, was ejected as well. The wreck occurred on Interstate 40 near the 158-mile marker.
Bell, 61, died of her injuries. Sumrell recovered after being transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem where he underwent surgery.
The motorcycle overturned after when Gibson, who was driving a minivan, hit the brakes abruptly, reports indicated. Gibson had been driving erratically in the westbound lanes of I-40 near the 158-mile marker and merged into the left lane, in front of Sumrell’s motorcycle, reports indicated.
The motorcycle overturned when Gibson braked and both driver and passenger were ejected. Both were wearing helmets.
A friend of Bell and Sumrell who was riding with them on another motorcycle chased Gibson, court testimony indicated. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Floyd said in her closing argument that Gibson tried to run the friend off the road. In response the friend pulled out a gun and shot at Gibson’s tires until he hit one.
The friend then called 911 and reported Gibson’s license plate number. Gibson continued to drive.
Gibson was arrested two days later.
During her closing arguments, Gibson’s defense lawyer Ashley Cannon reminded the jurors that they had to be sure of Gibson’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt and pointed out some of the inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimonies.
For instance, a witness who was driving a tractor-trailer said he thought the cause of the accident was the motorcycle following too close.
Cannon also said jurors could not know what Gibson knew as he was driving away. He could have been unaware that the motorcyclists had overturned.
“If every single one of their (witnesses’) stories had been exactly the same I would have known they had all talked to each other,” Floyd said. “They weren’t. They were all just different enough to know that everybody looks at it a bit differently.”
Floyd summarized witness testimony, describing a scene where Gibson was shouting, spitting and gesturing out the window before the incident.
“They (the witnesses) were also consistent, and what they were consistent on is what the defendant did, what he did to Warren and to Sarah,” Floyd said.