Soldier sentenced to 2 months in fatal DWI hit and run in Fayetteville

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Sergeant First Class Edward Hall

Sergeant First Class Edward Hall stammered through his apology to David Keller's family Thursday. With tears in his eyes, he admitted there are no words or actions that can make things better.

"I have....," Hall paused, crying. "There's nothing I can say. I'm terribly sorry."

Late Thursday afternoon, the Fort Bragg soldier was sentenced to two months in jail and five years of probation in a DWI hit and run case that killed Keller, a 54-year-old Army veteran, in the spring of 2013.

Hall, who told investigators he was so drunk he didn't know he'd hit anyone, would take his Escalade to a body shop for repairs. Those employees tipped off police, who later arrested Hall on post.

"I think an injustice has been served," said Cindy Ferguson, Keller's daughter, following the hearing. "Take somebody's life and you pretty much get a slap on the hand. It's ridiculous."

Hall, originally charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty to lesser charges for the accident that happened at Skibo and Morganton Roads in the early morning hours of April 6, 2013. Those charges include involuntary manslaughter, felony hit and run and driving while impaired.

The maximum consecutive sentence for all charges would have resulted in a five year prison sentence.

Hall, 38, didn't have a prior record. For the past two years, he's worn a monitoring bracelet, been on house arrest, and continued active duty service on Fort Bragg. The Army opted against discharge, and Hall, who enlisted at the age of 17, will retire will full benefits.

Prosecutors say Hall was drunk when he ran a red light, striking Keller on his motorcycle. Keller, who was on his way to work, would be left in the roadway. Hemorrhaging with broken ribs and cuts, Keller died in surgery five hours later.

"People make terrible mistakes and we have to understand the fallibility of humanity," said Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally. "Justice has to be tempered with mercy."

Both Hall's and Keller's tearful families told stories of loving husbands, fathers and honorable soldiers.

Hall's family pleaded for forgiveness and understanding.

""I know everyone in here can say there are choices that they made that they wish they could take back," said Hall's first cousin, Andrea Bowman. "And I know if Edward could, he would cause he's that type of person."

"I wanted to apologize to the family for my son and his actions," said Hall's mother, Annie Christopher.

THE ACCIDENT AND LEGAL ROLLERCOASTER

Prosecutor James Baker narrated a tale of two veterans traveling along very different paths that April morning.

Around 4 a.m., Keller was on his way to work as a correctional officer. The Army veteran had been retired for nearly 10 years, but he went back to work to support his family, including a daughter and grandchildren who had moved in with him and his wife.

As Keller made his way to work on his motorcycle, Hall was headed home. Baker said he told investigators he'd met up at "sex party" off Cliffdale Road with a woman he'd found online.

That woman and other partygoers suggested someone drive Hall home, but he refused, said Baker.

After running a red light and striking Keller, Hall's airbags deployed at Skibo and Morganton. Hall told investigators he didn't know what hit him. He was too drunk, but he realized he could be in serious trouble with the Army.

"He kept thinking he'd get a DWI if stopped, so he didn't stop," said Baker.

As Keller lay bleeding in the road, Hall moved on, taking his damaged Escalade to Powers Swain Chevrolet in Fayetteville.

"He took his vehicle to try to get repaired-to hide the evidence," said Keller's brother Larry Keller during the hearing. "These are the actions of a coward."

At the same time, Fayetteville Police put out a description for the Escalade with New Orleans Saints decals. A piece of the car had been left in the road alongside Keller who was helped by an unidentified off-duty FPD officer who witnessed the accident.

Keller's family said it was a Powers Swain manager and employee who tipped off FPD. Hall would be arrested three days later at his unit headquarters for the 50th Signal Battalion.

LIFE AFTER THE ACCIDENT

Soon after the accident, Hall would be put on a monitoring device, house arrest and remain on active duty.

Larry Keller said during the hearing that a military panel recommended discharge in one court martial, but rescinded the sentencing later, allowing Hall to attain full benefits upon retirement.

"I think they (the Army) recognize that one day doesn't make Edward Hall," said defense attorney Allen Rogers.

Hall, an Army cook, war veteran, husband and father of two, was void of blemishes on his military record prior to the accident.

Keller's family said he violated the ultimate honor code when he left a fellow soldier to die on the roadway.

"He's a disappointment as a soldier," said Ferguson during the hearing. "What happened to no man left behind?"

The Keller family said grandchildren were in counseling, their lives would never be the same, and they partly blamed prosecutors for a "slap on the hand."

The Hall family continually cited the soldier's kind heart, good nature, and sorrow for this incident and the Keller's incredible loss. His brother was in tears recounting how his sibling stuck by his side when he was hit by a truck as a child.

Tally ensured justice for the family, saying Hall had not escaped without accountability. She was in tears, saying she related to Kellers and their loss, citing her own husband's death in 2012.

"If there's hatred in your hearts, it will eat you alive," she told Keller's family.

"This isn't hatred," Larry Keller mumbled after the hearing, as family members convened outside the Cumberland County courthouse.

"My dad received a death sentence and the rest of us are living a life sentence," said Ferguson. "And he gets 60 days for taking that away."

A retribution hearing is yet to be scheduled for the case. Prosecutors asked for an extension in light of "new information" they'd received right before the plea hearing.

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