COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN)- On Monday, a Columbia judge sentenced 21-year-old Gavin Sheets for a 2020 reckless vehicular homicide, calling the crime, “a missile waiting to hit something.”
The judge handed down the maximum sentence in the case, after Trooper Ricky Alexander with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Critical Incident Response Team testified that Sheets was traveling at 112 miles per hour when he tried to make a turn on Sheegog Lane. The vehicle tumbled multiple times and resulted in the death of 16-year-old Jillian Brown who was sitting in the back seat.
“Pretty,” whispered Jennifer Brown, Jillian’s mother as she stood over her daughter’s grave holding back tears. “Beautiful.”
Standing together as a family, the Browns find comfort in being able to visit the memorial. They told News 2, they still remember that night she died.
“It was devastating. I could see the car, I could see Jillian being in a body bag, and […] it was nothing I want a parent to ever see,” said Jonathan Brown.
“I kind of blacked out and just woke up rolling around on the highway gravel and just crying, screaming no,” remembered Jennifer.
Almost 2 years later, the family finally gets a small form of justice. Although the family told News 2, they will never completely heal, the sentencing has been one small step in the right direction.
“We’ve been waiting for it for almost a year and a half, and it was just good to get a ruling, and the judge ruled on our side, and I think he should have. It was good to be done with,” explained Jonathan.
Judge Chris Sockwell sentenced Sheets to the maximum sentence of six years, to serve in the Tennessee Department of Corrections. During the sentencing, former Columbia Police Officer Mike Barnick testified that a month before the incident, he had clocked Sheets traveling 92 miles per hour on another street. In that case, Sheets has pleaded guilty to reckless driving and was placed on probation for six months. As the Brown family listened to the testimony of how Sheets has a record of reckless driving, they believe something needs to change.
“I think the penalty of reckless homicide should be more. That’s a death because of someone’s recklessness,” said Jonathan.
“I hope it sends a message, but yeah, it should be more years, but we just have to live with that and hope others learn from his mistake,” Jennifer echoed.
The Brown family has never spoken publicly to the media, until now. They say by sharing Jillian’s story, they hope it will inspire others.
On Sunday, the day before sentencing, the family and community came together to honor Jillian’s life with a brand new memorial located at Polk Memorial Gardens.
While handing down the sentence, Judge Sockwell described Sheet’s driving habits, as “like a missile waiting to hit something, that unfortunately, hit the Brown family.”