The phone rang that early Saturday morning. Earlier than my usual Saturday client calls; early enough to get your attention. When I saw the name flash on my iPhone I immediately answered. “Hello, Matt. You need to get over here. One of the girls in our apartment complex was struck and killed in front of our complex by a drunk driver last night.” And that’s how it started. No name, no age, no details on happened other than that. Her roommate was devastated and I needed to get over there and explain to him what to expect. I had yet to discover the tragic story of Meredith Baxley.
As a former prosecutor (who prosecuted traffic homicides and drunk drivers) and judge (where I presided over many DUI trials and defendants) I had a good idea what I should expect; there are certain patterns that seem to occur. The drunk driver who hit and killed the victim probably survived the crash. He probably had prior run ins with law enforcement. The victim was probably a very vulnerable and beautiful young person or elderly person needlessly struck down, and both families of the victim and the defendant would be devastated. These seem to be almost a given in many cases.
I arrived on the scene at Cabana Apartments to find Meredith’s roommate distraught . It was clear to me that his grief was both profound and sincere. When I looked around the apartment, I noticed an old motorized scooter, and it was then that her roommate told me it belonged to Meredith, a young woman still in her 30’s. I was curious though. Why a young woman in her 30’s was in a wheelchair?
“It was a bad wreck”
My name is Robert Prichard, case number 2007-002956. I entered a blind-plea to the charge of Assault 1st in your courtroom on August 29, 2008. My sentencing date is set for September 29, 2008. This is my first Felony charge. It was a bad wreck and I will have to live with that on my conscience for the rest of my life. I can not begin to explain how sorry I am for getting behind the wheel that night. I have a bad drug and alcohol problem and I was wondering if there is any way to get sentenced to a Drug-Rehab or some type of Alternative Sentencing so that I might be able to be close to home when my fiance has my son. I have three kids and one on the way, due in February of 2009. It this is at all possible, I would greatly appreciate it. One last chance is all I need and I will never be back in trouble again. I feel that I have learned my lesson but I need some help getting over the drug addiction. Thank you for your time.
Robert A. Prichard
Prichard mailed this letter to Judge Joseph “Rusty” Johnston on the eve of his sentencing. He had entered a blind plea, which meant that there was no negotiated plea with the district attorney’s office. His plea would be blind, that is not knowing what his sentence would be. He would be completely at the mercy of Judge Johnston. The letter is still part of the court file after nearly a decade. Prichard made bond and was placed on electronic monitoring on September 14, 2017. However that didn’t go so well as he was back in jail after violating the conditions of his bond by testing positive for alcohol on July 23, 2008 and then testing positive for cocaine, marijuana, and benzodiazepines.
The Bad Wreck
It was New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2006 at approximately 9:35 when Mr. Prichard forever changed the life of several motorists on Dawes Lane near Dutchman Woods Drive that evening. Prichard was driving drunk that night when he crossed the center line and slammed head on into Meredith Baxley, a 1997 McGill-Toolen graduate and mother of two young children.
After injuring Baxley, Prichard plowed into two vehicles behind Meredith. The state trooper noted in his accident report that Prichard (Driver 1) later stated that his memory was not too good.
Meredith’s injuries were serious. She was transported from the scene by USA Lifeflight.
Now I know this beautiful young woman was in a wheelchair. Meredith struggled over the next decade to find her way in the world. Prichard had denied her of life as she knew it, her mobility, her job, and most importantly her independence. Meredith’s mother would raise her children as she attempted to gain her independence.
Robert Prichard Facebook Photo
Looking back, Robert was right about two things- he indeed had a bad alcohol and drug problem, and it was a bad wreck. Curiously he never mentioned Meredith or her children or family by name in his letter. Ultimately, Robert was shipped off to the state penitentiary, served his time and was released. As part of his probation upon release, Mobile County Circuit Court Judge ordered Prichard to attend and complete a DUI victim impact panel and to give presentations to McGill High School students on the dangers of drunk driving. Meredith later posted on her facebook page that both she and Prichard attended McGill High School.
Mobile County Circuit Court Judge Joseph “Rusty” Johnston revoked Prichard’s bond and later sentenced him to the state penitentiary
Meanwhile, Meredith’s struggles continued. Her life and family were left forever changed. As anyone who has experienced the ravages of a traumatic brain injury can attest, the physical therapy was grueling and the toll exacted was a heavy one.
Meredith and her mother Christine Frohock
February 5, 2017
She was just going to make a run across the street to the Dollar General. That night she crossed Azalea Boulevard on her motorized scooter from The Crossings at Pinebrook. She often cut through the parking lots from her neighboring apartment complex at Cabana.
She made it to the Dollar General, and was on her way home when another driver sped in to her life.
MELVIN ORLANDO MARTIN
Melvin “Orlando” Martin is no stranger to the criminal justice system. A convicted felon, Martin had prior arrests for attempted murder, assault, robbery, domestic violence possession of a pistol without a permit, reckless endangerment, false name to police, marijuana possession. He was ultimately convicted of two counts of robbery and sent off to the penitentiary. DOC classified him as a violent offender, pushing his parole eligibility date back, and prohibiting other perks such as work release.
So he sued the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Melvin Martin Complaint suing the Alabama Department of Corrections
And he wanted some money too. He requested $189,820 in compensatory damages.
Melvin, just like the other driver who injured Meredith, was ultimately released from prison. Melvin was back behind the wheel of a car as he barreled down Azalea Boulevard into poor Meredith Baxley on February 3, 2017. Poor Meredith never had a chance. One drunk driver incapacitated her and finally another killed her. Police say Melvin was driving drunk and speeding when he ran over Meredith in her scooter. They say they found marijuana in has car too. They arrested him for manslaughter and possession of marijuana, 2nd degree. Traffic Homicide officer Jonathan Mixon was assigned the task of notifying Meredith’s family. Melvin was arrested, made bond, and placed on electronic monitoring. He was released a free man. Some men just can’t handle freedom though. And Melvin was a prime example.
The Preliminary Hearing
Thursday May 25, 2017 arrived and Melvin Martin appeared in court from jail. The Mobile County District Attorney’s Office brought manslaughter and possession of marijuana, 2nd degree charges. Melvin gingerly walked into the courtroom escorted by a corrections officer. Melvin had violated the terms and conditions of his bond after he was arrested on May 6, 2017 for assaulting a police officer, public intoxication, and domestic violence. The state asked the judge to revoke the bonds he made in Meredith’s case because of the new arrests.
At the preliminary hearing the state was represented by Ashley Rich, the district attorney. Ashley called Traffic Homicide investigator Jonathan Mixon. Mixon testified that he was called to the scene of the crash. When he arrived on the scene he first saw Martin in the back of a patrol car. Mixon spoke with Martin and Mixon smelled the odor of alcohol, notice bloodshot eyes and Martin exhibited poor balance (all cues of impairment). Mixon read the implied consent to Martin asking him to consent to a blood draw. Martin refused, so Mixon had to draft a search warrant which a judge approved. The judge ordered two samples of the defendant’s blood be drawn. Armed with the search warrant, Mixon arrived at USA hospital. When confronted with the order, Martin responded, “No one will stick a needle in my arm.” Mixon testified Martin was uncooperative to the extent that Martin had to be restrained so the medical personnel could extract his blood. Apparently this scene was captured on one of the officer’s body cameras.
Martin Toxicology Results
Mixon testified he took two blood samples. The first sample he took at 9:50PM and the second sample he took at 10:50PM. The blood was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science Department. The defendant’s first sample result was 0.21. The second sample was 0.19. A driver is presumed under the influence of alcohol in the State of Alabama if he is blood alcohol content is 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol.
Mixon testified that he was able to secure the event data recorder from Martin’s vehicle. After securing a search warrant, Mixon downloaded the data that showed that at the moment of impact, Martin was traveling 56.7 mph. The posted limit in the area was 35mph. Mixon said there were no skid marks before impact. Mixon testified that officers discovered a green plant like material during an inventory of Martin’s vehicle which the Department of Forensic Sciences identified as marijuana.
On cross-examination, Martin’s attorney David Barnett (an accomplished veteran attorney who always fights hard for his clients) got Mixon to concede that Meredith was not in a cross walk when she was crossing Azalea Boulevard and that she was not wearing “contrasting clothing.” Barnett asked how the lighting in the area was, since Mixon testified he believed the accident occurred at 6:45PM. Martin refused to give a statement to the police.
It was Mixon’s conclusion that Martin’s intoxication and speed caused Meredith’s death. The judge found probable cause to bind the case over to the grand jury.
Martin’s New Arrests While on Bond for Killing Meredith
Ashley Rich next called two officers to testify as to how Martin had violated his bond by getting arrested again for Assault, 2nd Degree, Resisting Arrest, Domestic Violence,3rd Degree and Public Intoxication. Curiously I noted the first officer who testified hobbled to the podium on cruches and an AOC boot on. The District Attorney’s Office received notice from Mobile Community Corrections that the defendant had violated the terms of his bond. Ashley Rich asked the judge to revoke the defendant’s bond because of this.
The responding police officer testified that police were called to a residence of a female who reported Martin was harassing her. The female had subpoenaed Martin to take a blood test to confirm his paternity of her child. Martin came to her residence that day, May 6, 2017 to see his baby. The female victim told police that Martin took her baby that day. Eventually she got her baby back but Martin had returned to her house demanding to see the child and was harassing her. Police responded but by the time they arrived, Martin was gone. The female said Martin was wearing a white tanktop and sweat pants. Officers left and just happened to see a male matching Martin’s description at a gas station with a brown bag with what appeared to be a bottle in it. When this man saw the police, he walked behind the station (testimony revealed that he was attempting to avoid them). Police followed the man, who was shirtless but wearing grey sweatpants, but noticeably missing the brown paper bag.
The officer with the boot and on crutches continued on in his testimony. Since the man was similar to the description of Martin, he approached the male and asked him his name.
“You don’t need to know my name. What is YOUR name?
I know the law. I know my rights!”
The man responded, “You don’t need to know my name. What is YOUR name? I know the law. I know my rights!” The officer testified that he was loud and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. The man had slurred speech, and bloodshot eyes. When the officer attempted to handcuff the man, he forcibly resisted and the officer and man fell to the ground. Ultimately, after the man was arrested police found a white tank top in his grey sweat pants. On his ankle police discovered an electronic monitoring device. Police transported the female complainant to the scene and she positively identified the man as Melvin Martin. After falling to the ground with the defendant, the officer was hurt. Paramedics were called to the scene and transported the officer to the hospital. His ankle was broken in three places and he had to have surgery to repair it. He has pins and screws in his ankle and is still hobbling around on crutches.
The State rested and the judge reset the hearing to be concluded on Wednesday.
Meredith’s parents were in court for the entire hearing. I sat with them. Despite Meredith’s compelling story, and the presence of a local news team in court, no one seemed interested in this tragic story. Think about that for a second. Have we become so desensitized to DUI homicides that it is no longer newsworthy when one drunk driver puts a young mother in the prime of her life in a wheelchair and another alleged DUI driver kills her? Media outlets were more concerned with covering Etoe Da Shooter, who was set the same day for a bond hearing.
And so Meredith’s parents and daughter shuffled out of the courtroom after the hearing. I couldn’t help but notice that her parents had a look of angst like they had traveled this road before. And I think to what Meredith would have thought that day too. Not Again…