WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Hasani Wesley’s death was a tragedy but it wasn’t an accident, Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding said in closing arguments this morning in the trial of Billy Roger Bailey.
Bailey, a pastor of Cross Roads Ministry in Walkertown, has been on trial the past week on charges of involuntary manslaughter and passing a stopped school bus in connection with Hasani’s death on Dec. 19, 2012. Hasani, a sixth-grader at East Forsyth Middle School, was hit while crossing the southbound lane of Old Hollow Road on his way to catch a school bus. Bailey was driving a 1999 Jeep Cherokee south on Old Hollow Road and hit Hasani about 6:50 a.m. that morning.
“It is dismissive and deceptive to call it an accident,” Breeding said. “Hasani Wesley no longer exists as a direct result of this defendant’s choice.”
Bailey told authorities that the bus’ yellow warning lights were on when he hit Hasani.
Breeding argued that even if the jury believes Bailey’s version of what happened, it doesn’t mean that what happened was an accident. Bailey could have slowed down or stopped when he saw the school bus, Breeding said.
Bailey had driven that stretch of Old Hollow Road for 20 years and lived a few miles down the road from where Hasani lived, Breeding said.
“How did he miss that little boy?” Breeding asked.
George Cleland, one of Bailey’s attorneys, said in closing arguments that under state law Bailey had no responsibility to slow down when he saw the bus’ yellow lights. The two witnesses that the defense called — Marilyn Martin and David Martin, who are not related — testified they saw yellow lights about the time Hasani was hit. Steve Farlow, a staff engineer with Accident Reconstruction Analysis Inc. in Raleigh, testified that the bus was stopped for 20 seconds before the flashing red lights came on and the stop arm came down.
Cleland zeroed in on those 20 seconds, wondering why the bus was stopped for that length of time before the lights turned red and the stop arm came down. He also said it was possible that Hasani could have run out into the road trying to catch the school bus.
“I don’t know if an 11-year-old boy is going to wait until the stop arm comes out,” Cleland said.
He said that Marilyn Martin is probably the most credible witness. But Assistant District Attorney Brian Taylor said in his closing argument that Martin never talked to any law-enforcement officials. Instead, she talked to Mayor Kenneth Davis of Walkertown — who also bailed Bailey out of jail — about the case. In the next few days, Cleland called Martin.
Taylor also went after Farlow’s testimony, saying that Farlow gave an opinion based on GPS data from the bus, even though he knew nothing about the GPS unit or the computer software that the GPS unit used. Farlow gave an opinion that fit very nicely into what Bailey’s defense was, Taylor said.
Breeding argued that Farlow’s opinion that the bus was stopped 20 seconds before the red lights came on didn’t make sense. For Farlow’s opinion to be true, it would mean that the school bus went from about 20 mph to a complete stop within two seconds. School bus driver Stephanie Fulton testified that she began slowing the bus down about 300 feet before she stopped the bus.
Cleland argued that it made no sense for students to be standing in the dark on the side of a highway where the speed limit is 45 mph. He also argued that Fulton appeared to change her testimony to fit with what he alleged were those last 20 seconds before the stop arm came down and the red lights began flashing.
He urged the jury not to sacrifice Bailey on the altar of public opinion but to find him not guilty of the charges.
Breeding said Bailey gave three versions of what happened, including saying at the scene that someone hit Hasani first, which was in direct contradiction of the physical evidence and the witness statements. Breeding pointed out Bailey testified that he prayed over Hasani for about 40 seconds after the incident and told Hasani’s mother, Odina Wesley, that he had hit her son.
Odina Wesley testified Monday that she never spoke to Bailey and didn’t know his name until she saw it on the news.
Judge Ronald Spivey gave the jury instructions after the closing arguments. The jury will begin deliberations, which are expected to continue through the day.