Aimee Michael (pictured left), for the most part, seems to be a lot like the rest of us. She's a 24-year-old black female college graduate with two parents who love her. Her parents have been married for 28 years, and her mother is a 52-year-old former school teacher. On Easter Sunday in 2009, though, Aimee found herself facing up to 50 years in prison. While she didn't get the entire 50 years, she did get 36 of them.
Aimee Michael was the cause of a massive car accident in Atlanta, a chain reaction that caused the deaths of five people, including a newborn baby, a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old. After being sideswiped by another car, Michael's BMW hit another car, causing it to collide head-on with another vehicle. Michael is going to prison, because after causing this terrible accident, she fled the scene and tried to cover up the evidence.
Aimee Michael's mother, Sheila (pictured right), was given eight years in prison for her role in the cover up. This has left the Michael family devastated, but not nearly as much as the families of the victims.
"I want to say that I am wrong. I have wronged three families and for that I am sorry," Michael said in court.
Michael was arrested two weeks after the accident, when neighbors called the police. She was found guilty on five counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of hit and run and several misdemeanors.
The judge was actually brought to tears and said she prayed about the decision before rendering the sentence. The deciding factor in the crash was the fact that Michael left the scene of the accident. She also expressed disappointment in Michael's mother for not turning her daughter in to the police.
When it comes to the sentencing of Aimee Michael, I'm going to have to keep it real: Based on what I've read about Aimee and her family, it appears that much of this could have happened to any of us. While most of us would not have left the scene of the accident, I can't help but imagine Aimee as a frightened 24-year-old young adult who did something incredibly stupid.
Also, while we can easily criticize Aimee's mother for protecting her daughter, I am willing to bet that at least half the people reading this article may at least consider doing the same thing if it meant keeping their child from prison. This does not, in any way, condone Aimee's actions (or those of her mother), but it does highlight the difficulty of the decisions that this family had to make.
Aimee's attorney made a very good point. She said that we should consider what the sentence would have been had Aimee not left the scene:
"What Sheila Michael did was driven by fear and attempt to protect her child," said Renee Rockwell, Aimee's attorney. "It was the worst move she could have made. If Aimee Michael had gone back to the scene, we would be talking about six to 12 months at most."
Personally, I see the accident as the thing that it was: an accident. She was side-swiped and hit another car. Given that's the case, I am not sure if a long prison sentence would be appropriate. But one thing that must be considered is that Aimee Michael has been cited numerous times for driving too fast. In the state of Pennsylvania, she received several speeding tickets within a very short amount of time. She is also known to be someone who regularly smokes marijuana and there was even a "marijuana cigar" found in the car during the police investigation. This information tells us clearly that Aimee, like many young people across America is both reckless and inconsiderate in her personal choices. In spite of her shameful behavior, I can't help but feel that 36-years in prison is simply too long of a sentence.
On a secondary note, there is no doubt in my mind that Aimee Michael and her mother deserve to go to prison. My heart dropped to the ground when reading about the three young children killed in this accident. I also mourn for the families of all of the victims. This story serves as a cautionary tale to all of the kids across America who think it's cute or cool to speed down the highway or to get involved in drugs. You might think you're having harmless fun, but you could end up ruining the lives of yourself, strangers and people you care about. When Aimee Michael showed up to her mother's house after getting involved in this accident, she instantly destroyed her family. Should it be the case that she was driving irresponsibly, the guilt of this experience will be with her forever.
The fact that Aimee and her mother were so selfish as to ignore the suffering of these families by attempting to hide their involvement is simply sickening. With that said, I will also say that 5 - 10 years in prison for Aimee might have been a more reasonable sentence. I don't agree with 36 years in prison, and I sincerely doubt she would have gotten this much time if she were Paris Hilton or someone from an affluent Georgia family.
On that note, this is an incredibly painful story to read, and I wish the families the best. The sadness of this tragedy resonates through all of our psyches, and we can learn quite a few lessons about vehicle safety and doing the right thing. When you get behind the wheel, please be careful. Driving is an important responsibility.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action Resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.