The attorney for an Atlanta man accused of causing a fatal hit-and-run wreck last summer said the case is a tragedy but that doesn’t make his client guilty.
Walter Bell is on trial for the July 9 wreck on Ga. 400 that resulted in the death of 21-year-old Jenny McMillan Gutierrez of Roswell.
He pleaded not guilty in December to one count each of felony murder, aggravated assault, first-degree homicide by vehicle, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.
A Forsyth County Superior Court jury heard opening arguments and testimony in the case Tuesday.
Rafe Banks, Bell’s attorney, said there are inconsistencies in the statements of witnesses who reported seeing the crash, as well as evidence provided by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
“This case is really about jumping to a conclusion,” Banks said.
He said the indictment implies Bell caused Gutierrez’s vehicle to leave the road, but “it doesn’t say what he did to do that” and added that Bell’s conduct was “inconsistent with trying to conceal anything.”
Assistant Forsyth County District Attorney Heather Chambers argued that witnesses noticed Bell weaving in and out of traffic that day while driving a white Merecedes Benz.
She said Bell cut Gutierrez off twice in traffic and the second time, swerved directly in front of her and hit his brakes.
The maneuver reportedly caused Gutierrez to lose control of her Mercury Sable and ultimately sent the car across both lanes, over a ravine and so far into the woods it couldn’t be seen from the road.
Chambers noted that witnesses said Bell slammed on his brakes and then accelerated past the wreck. He did not stop or return, instead taking Exit 14 and heading east.
Gutierrez never regained consciousness and died a short time later at Northside Hospital-Forsyth, Chambers said.
Authorities received the license plate number of the Mercedes from a witness who was driving on Ga. 400 when the wreck occurred.
They tracked the car back to Hertz and then determined it was Bell that had rented the vehicle, Chambers said.
She asked the jurors to find Bell guilty and tell him “it’s not OK that his anger, his rage caused Jenny to die.”
Todd Pawly testified that he was driving on Ga. 400 with his family when the wreck occurred. He said the Mercedes passed him and seemed to start pacing a vehicle he thought was a Ford Taurus Station wagon.
He said the Mercedes swerved from the right lane to the left lane in front of the station wagon and that’s when the driver of the Mercedes hit the brakes, causing the other car to swerve out of control.
When he noticed that someone else had stopped on the side of the road, Pawly said he followed the Mercedes and called 911 to report the license plate number.
Prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call, as well as one by Mary Gamble.
Gamble testified that she also had seen the wreck and stopped on the side of the road after Gutierrez’s vehicle entered the woods.
Other witnesses included Forsyth County Firefighter Brian DeStefano and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Giordano. The trial is expected to last four to five days.