PANAMA CITY — A driver accused of leaving the scene of a fatal Labor Day weekend 2017 crash he allegedly caused by turning into the path of a motorcycle has decided to accept his fate, according to court records.
Barry Arch M. Gardner, 77, now has a plea hearing scheduled on charges of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and leaving the scene of crash resulting in serious injuries. He was arrested three weeks after a fatal Sept. 2, 2017, crash in Panama City Beach when he came forward to tell officers he caused it, fled and hid the car in his garage. Despite pleading not guilty since, Gardner will be entering a no contest plea to the charges on Jan. 22, court records stated.
Failing to remain at a deadly crash is a first-degree felony while leaving a wreck involving serious injuries is a third-degree felony. So Gardner could essentially spend the rest of his life benihd bars since the combined punishment could be 35 years in prison.
According to Florida Highway Patrol reports, troopers arrived near the intersection of U.S. 98 (Back Beach) and Gulf View Drive about 7:40 p.m. to find that a car had pulled into the path of black Honda Shadow motorcycle. Robert Lee Smith, 52, of Panama City, had been driving the motorcycle with 23-year old Rebecca Summar, of Benton, Arkansas, as his passenger before both were thrown from the motorcycle.
Smith suffered serious critical injuries upon impact and Summar was then struck and killed by a 2014 Lexus driving on Back Beach, FHP reported.
Troopers found that the driver of a car that pulled into the path of the motorcycle had failed to yield to oncoming traffic when turning from Back Beach Road onto Gulf View Drive. Bystanders that stopped to help the motorcyclists described the car as either a blue or black Toyota Prius. Despite the injured people and pieces of wreckage from the car in the street, it stopped briefly and then fled the scene, FHP reported.
It wasn’t until Sept. 23, 2017 that Gardner came forward to admit he’d been the driver of the other vehicle involved. Gardner left the scene and took his car to his home at 508 Sea Breeze Drive – only a few blocks away from the crash.
During an interview, Gardner allegedly told troopers he’d been driving a blue 2013 Toyota Prius the night of the crash. He was driving east on Back Beach Road and went to perform a u-turn near Gulf View Drive to double back to his street when “he felt something and pulled to the shoulder,” FHP reported.
“After seeing that people were tending to the two people on the motorcycle, Mr. Gardner left the scene of the crash and parked the car in the garage,” troopers wrote. “He stated he hasn’t moved the vehicle since the crash occurred.”
The pieces of wreckage from the scene matched the damage to Gardenr’s Prius in his garage, FHP reported. Gardner was arrested and charged.