A 28-year-old man has pleaded guilty in Cherokee County Superior Court to vehicular homicide in a 2018 crash in which his 22-year-old passenger was killed.

Paul Allen Barnes pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle, possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, driving under the influence, reckless driving, and other charges. Cherokee County Superior Court Judge Tony Baker sentenced Barnes to 20 years with the first five years to be served in confinement.

The crash occurred just before midnight on April 13, 2018 when Barnes lost control of his Jeep Wrangler while traveling west on Ga. Highway 92 at speeds estimated at 70 mph. The vehicle ran off the highway near Bryon Road, then rolled over, ejecting both Barnes and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Jerry Nikkole Acklin. Neither occupant was wearing a seatbelt, authorities said. Acklin sustained critical injuries and died six days later.

Barnes admitted to law enforcement that he had smoked marijuana earlier in the day and had one drink several hours prior to the accident. Investigations determined that he was impaired and in possession of approximately 37 grams of marijuana inside the Jeep.

“On this fateful day, the defendant made a series of bad decisions. He smoked marijuana, drank alcohol, and drove recklessly at high speeds, causing him to lose control of his vehicle,” said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Randall Ivey, who prosecuted the case. “Anger may have also played a factor since witnesses reported seeing the defendant argue with Ms. Acklin, then ‘burn rubber’ as he took off from a Kroger parking lot just moments before the accident.”

During the in-person hearing, Acklin’s family and friends described the pain of losing her at such a young age.

In court, Barnes admitted to making bad decisions that day and apologized to Acklin’s family.

The state recommended a sentence of 20 years, with seven to serve in confinement, 240 hours of community service, and other conditions. Defense attorney Archie Speights proposed a sentence of 15 years to serve on probation.

In addition to the 20-year sentence of imprisonment and probation, Baker also ordered that Barnes have no contact with members of Acklin’s family, unless they choose to contact him.

Baker urged Barnes to pursue addiction treatment during his sentence.

“It is heartbreaking to see the pain of a grieving family, especially when this accident could have easily been avoided had the defendant exercised better judgement,” said District Attorney Shannon Wallace. “While nothing can bring back this young woman to her family, hopefully this case will serve to remind people of the dangers associated with driving under the influence.”

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