Thursday was an emotional day in court for the family of the late John Lester Padgett of Jasper.
Padgett’s son, sister and parents were among those who watched as Chief State Court Judge Russell McClelland accepted Kaley Ashton Quarles’ guilty plea to second-degree vehicular homicide.
The 50-year-old Padgett, a longtime Forsyth County government employee, was killed in May 2012 when the vehicle Quarles was driving crossed the centerline on Old Federal Road and struck Padgett’s motorcycle.
“She looked down for a moment,” said Chief Deputy Solicitor Inez Grant. “There was absolutely no time for him to [react].”
McClelland sentenced Quarles, 19, to 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service to be conducted at the four Pickens County schools Padgett attended growing up.
Quarles must also pay up to $200 toward a plaque honoring Padgett to hang at his county office.
Before being sentenced, Quarles addressed Padgett’s family.
“I am so, so sorry for all of this,” she said. “It is such a big part of my life now.”
Quarles said she had been portrayed as an “evil careless teenager and that’s not who I am.”
“I’m not evil, I’m just trying to get through this,” she said. “I’m still on Old Federal Road screaming for help ... I was completely alone. I am still completely alone.”
Quarles added that she has been unable to move on. “I don’t feel alive right now,” she said.
Padgett’s sister, Angela Padgett, spoke to Quarles, saying she hopes the teen will have an impact during her volunteer hours, using that time to talk to other young drivers about the perils of not paying attention.
“Nothing that happens here today will ever bring him back,” Angela Padgett said. “If she can just get the word out so that maybe my brother’s death can save someone else.”
Padgett’s mother, Frances Padgett, was emotional when addressing Quarles and her family. Having been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer was the worst news she had received until two officers arrived at her home to tell her of her son’s death.
Adding insult to injury was the mug shot she saw of Quarles after the incident.
“I could not understand why she was smiling so big,” Frances Padgett said.
Quarles’ mother, Valerie, told the Padgett family that the “picture haunts me.”
“As a mother, I was mortified to see it,” she said. “That picture will haunt us the rest of our lives.
“She is so much more than that picture ... I hope someday you have forgiveness.”
Valerie Quarles said her daughter was ridiculed and harassed by people who had seen the photo.
According to Quarles’ attorney, William Finch, the photo had been taken after deputies at the jail attempted to comfort the distraught teenager by making her laugh.
“It doesn’t reflect her feelings,” he said. “It makes her look like a monster.
“Harmful things, ugly things have been said to her ... she has been driven from her home.”
After the judge’s sentence, Padgett’s family approached the Quarles family and offered hugs and sympathy.
It was a case McClelland called a “dual tragedy.”
“She has to live with the consequences of her actions every day ... this will never go away for her,” he said.
Then, addressing Quarles, the judge added, “You have an opportunity to make Mr. Padgett live on as something like a beacon for people like you to be more vigilant.”