FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The veteran paramedic who lost her right leg after a car crash in 2016 is speaking out about the sentence handed down for the man responsible for the wreck.
Attorney James Hoffmeyer said Jody Heglar, who had been charged with DUI and driving on a suspended license, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for causing the March 2016 crash that severely injured Tessie Smith.
Heglar’s sentence was suspended upon the service of 14 months in jail, which he received credit for, and five years’ probation, according to the attorney.
Hoffmeyer said tests showed there was no alcohol or other hard drugs in Heglar’s system at the time of the crash. Tests only showed the drug Topamax, which is a nerve pain medication and anticonvulsant, to indicate driving impairment.
WMBF News sat down Tessie Smith and her husband Scott at their new home built by the community and close friends to help Tessie adjust to life after the crash.
The couple admitted Jody Heglar’s sentencing was lenient, but said this will help them move on and put the incident behind them.
“Our lives changed and we can’t unchange them..." Scott said.
“But, they didn’t end.” Tessie said, finishing her husband’s sentence.
The Smiths said they’ve come along way since March 2016, still settling into their recently built wheelchair accessible home.
“My shower’s set up where I can move right into the shower. I’ve got a bathtub I can get in and out off,” Tessie said.
She remembered that the first two years after the crash were tough, but said she tries not to dwell on the incident anymore.
“When I have my bad days, yeah, he’s at the center of my anger, but I don’t have those very often anymore," Tessie said.
The couple said they met with 12th Circuit Solicitor Ed Clements a few weeks before Heglar was sentenced.
Scott said part of being okay with the sentencing was the guarantee of some justice instead of the risk that comes along with going to trial.
“Could this go south and you know nothing got done... I don’t think that was an option she and I could live with," he said.
“We don’t have to prove anything anymore. He does something and he gets busted for it, he goes to jail for 15 years,” Tessie said.
However, the sentence didn’t sit well with Howe Springs Fire Chief William Dillon, a dear friend of Tessie, who expressed his disappointment in a lengthy Facebook post.
“The courts (have) decided that the careless act of someone who ended someones (sic) life (because her career was her life), got a reduced sentence of just over a year,” Dillon wrote. “It took us longer to build her a house so she could live with her family than his sentence.”
Dillon referenced the “emotional scars” Smith’s co-workers will carry of having to cut her out of the ambulance she was in, “with her leg hanging on by shredded tissues.”
“I am very disappointed with the judicial system in Florence County. This is why no one is scared to drive drunk or get high or break any law for that matter,” Dillon wrote. “This paramedic was responding to someone in need and due to the irresponsibility of someone else lives were changed forever.”
Now Tessie spends her days caring after her grandson, leaving the past behind and focusing on the future.
“Matter of fact we’re planning a trip over the holiday weekend and you know it’s time to move on and make the best of the rest of our lives,” Scott said.
Crews were responding to an emergency call when the crash on Church Street took place. Heglar, who was an employee of a Pamplico-based lumber company, was driving a company truck at the time of the collision.
Scott said Heglar’s probation terms include no driving.