By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer
COVINGTON - A Northern Kentucky man who walked more than a mile in below-freezing weather to get away from a wreck he caused on the Brent Spence Bridge will get 15 years in prison.
When police caught up to 34-year-old Geoffrey Mayberry after the January wreck, he was drinking beer at his Ludlow home and trying to warm up - even as authorities searched the Ohio River for his body. It was 5 degrees below zero that morning with a wind chill factor of minus 30.
Mayberry pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from the wreck that killed 24-year-old law student Gentry Aubrey.
The plea in Kenton Circuit Court was part of an agreement that reduced the charge from murder to second-degree manslaughter. Instead of facing life in prison, he will be eligible for parole in three years.
He also pleaded to one count of second-degree assault, two counts of wanton endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident and driving on a suspended license. He will be formally sentenced Nov. 15.
Police say Aubrey was driving south on the bridge when he slowed to avoid hitting the car ahead of him and was rear-ended by another car. When Aubrey and the driver behind him got out and walked between their two cars to check the damage, Mayberry's minivan smashed into them - throwing Aubrey and the other driver into the middle lanes of the bridge.
Commonwealth Attorney Bill Crockett said Mayberry, whose license already had been suspended for driving drunk, fled the crash scene, leaving the two men critically injured and his passenger trapped in the wreckage of the van.
Surgeons amputated Aubrey's legs to try to save the Northern Kentucky University student's life, but he died 12 hours after the crash from a traumatic brain injury.
The second man, Dan Altom, also had his legs crushed in the wreck. The 38-year-old doesn't remember the wreck. Titanium rods in both legs enable him to walk.
Emergency workers were able to cut Mayberry's roommate and passenger, Wendy Alexander, out of the wreckage. Not seriously hurt, she told police that Mayberry ran after crashing his van. Until that time, they believed the force of the wreck threw him into the river.
Crockett said he was prepared to present evidence that Mayberry was a self-described beer lover who drank at least 10 beers at three different Cincinnati bars before the wreck.
Crockett said Covington police detectives didn't force Mayberry to get a test to measure his blood-alcohol level because it was several hours after the wreck, and he had continued to drink after walking home.
The bridge's lack of breakdown lanes contributed to the death, police said. The bridge was built with extra lanes into which broken-down vehicles could pull over, but the lanes were converted years ago to help the bridge handle more traffic.
It was the second fatality on the Ohio River bridge in just more than a year. In January 2003, a Covington man whose car stalled was killed when his Dodge Shadow was hit from behind by a semi tractor-trailer. That wreck also happened in the southbound lanes.
Bob Steinberg, whom Aubrey clerked for in the Cincinnati law office of Waite, Schneider, Bayless & Chesley, said Aubrey's death was a tragic loss.
"This cost society a promising young person," he said. "Gentry worked for me. He was talented and kind, just the kind of person who would stop and help a stranded motorist."
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