Plea granted in deadly I-85 motorcycle crash

Apr. 22, 2013 @ 08:00 PM

Michael Gray Rigsbee of Creedmoor will serve no more than three years in jail for the July 8, 2010, vehicle death of Cary motorcyclist Sean Christopher Newman.

Assistant District Attorney Allison Capps said the actions by Rigsbee while driving a Volvo tractor-trailer were intentionally mean-spirited and aggressive, causing the 39-year-old Newman’s death on Interstate 85 South.

Rigsbee, 41, accepted a last-minute plea deal rather than face a jury trial this week. Rigsbee admitted to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and hit and run, involving serious injury or death.

Judge Robert H. Hobgood ruled against defense requests for mitigation from the suggested penalty range after hearing a lengthy presentation of evidence that included testimony from Newman’s surviving wife, Julie Newman.

The crash occurred near Exit 220 in the Middleburg community at about 7 p.m. on a Thursday. State trooper reports stated Newman died at the scene.

Witnesses described a scene in which Rigsbee was driving aggressively, weaving his tractor-trailer through traffic on the way from Virginia, and Newman responded at first by trying to maneuver in front to signal for Rigsbee to slow down.

According to witnesses, Rigsbee started to ride up on Newman’s 2010 BMW motorcycle, to the left, then to the right, then back and forth again, so close that one witness described believing several times that they must have hit.

They said Newman appeared to wave his hand back toward Rigsbee to get him to back off, and he tried to maneuver to safety, going far to the left again, even off the southbound lanes, to just let the tractor-trailer pass.

“It was too close for the tractor-trailer and the motorcycle to be,” said witness Jessica Bishop of Georgia. “It was very strange that they went back and forth, back and forth. He got up on the motorcycle, and we were saying what’s going on?”

Capps said evidence included a strip of material from Newman’s handle-grip that was found bunched into a step-ladder portion of the trailer that Rigsbee was found hauling about 20 miles south of the accident point.

Capps entered an autopsy report into evidence. Noting the report, she said Newman died of severe blunt force trauma to the head and chest, destroying brain activity and his heart and lung functioning.

Evidence also included 911 calls from three motorists who said they were seeing or saw the aggressive driving by the tractor-trailer they later identified to state troopers.

Capps agreed with Rigsbee attorney J. Thomas Burnette on a deal to drop charges of reckless driving and failure to stop and give aid in an accident.

Julie Newman said that she and her husband, Sean, were looking forward to celebrating 16 years of marriage later that July. Their son Jackson asks painful questions about his now absent father.

“He’s 9,” she said as she fought an agonizing burden of emotion on the witness stand. “He shouldn’t have to have feelings like that.”

She became distraught to the point that Judge Hobgood ordered a 10-minute recess.

Newman family members said Sean Newman had been in the U.S. Marine Corps for 13 years, gaining top-level security clearance for work directly with Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton as a videographer.

Julie Newman, while testifying, described her husband as “chatty.”

“If he met someone with a motorcycle, he might talk with them for an hour,” she said. “If you had a dog, it might be two hours, and if you were military, who knows how long it could be.”

She wept aloud when recalling the distraction of dealing with evening children routines on the evening of the crash, to the point, she didn’t notice more time went by than usual between their frequent telephone conversations. Then she received news of his death.

“He was such a good father, he was such a good person,” Julie Newman said. “There will never be another person to take his place.”

Rigsbee addressed both his own family members and Newman family members when delivering his apology.

“This is a very, very heavy burden on my heart,” Rigsbee said. “It is killing me. I am very sorry for all of it.”

After Judge Hobgood announced sentencing of 15-18 months on each count, equalling up to three years, Rigsbee removed his blue blazer and tie, giving them to his mother, who broke down in tears.

A bailiff handcuffed Rigsbee, who according to Capps did not spend more than a day or so, if any, in jail before posting $112,000 bond for his release pending the nearly three-year trial process.

“He is not receiving any credit for time served,” Capps said.

“I love you son,” Rigsbee’s mother called out.

Capps summarized the incident as, “the result of intentional actions on the part of this defendant,” she said.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.