Prosecution rests in trial of man accused of driving drunk, killing waitress

By: Glenn Counts

Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - State prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the trial of a man accused of driving drunk, then hitting and killing a Charlotte woman in January 2016.

The defendant, Gregory Wheeling Jr., faces charges of driving while impaired and second-degree murder in the death of Kelli Putnam.


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Putnam, a beloved waitress at a popular South End restaurant, was struck and killed by a car on South Boulevard while walking home with her fiancé after a Carolina Panthers game.

Putnam’s fiancé, Bronsyn Stewart, was the last witness to take the stand in court on Wednesday.

"I'm just praying she's gonna be in the hospital, she will be fine she'll be home later tonight," Stewart said.

Stewart recounted details of the night that he and Putnam went to the 2016 Panthers game against the Seattle Seahawks.

“Everybody was celebrating, happy we had just won a playoff game, going to the NFC Championship game,” Stewart said. “Everybody was having a good time."

Stewart said he and Putnam got separated and ended up on opposite sides of the street. He said he remembered hearing a car coming in his direction.

"You could just hear it, you could hear it like somebody just gunned it," Stewart said.

Stewart said Putnam was crossing the street to get to his side when she was struck.

"I saw her take her last step, like she almost tried to get out of the way, but it was just too fast," Stewart said.

Putnam was reportedly struck by the driver’s side of the car.

"It was just a limp body flying in the air when it hit the street, it tumbled and tumbled, and tumbled, like it was never gonna stop,” Stewart said. “I wanted to run out and catch her."  

A surveillance camera from a nearby business showed clear conditions the night of Putnam’s death.

Police said Wheeling’s car was traveling an average of 67 mph in an area with a 35 mph speed limit that night.

The trial is set to resume Thursday morning.

Defense asks for a mistrial

Wheeling’s attorneys asked for a mistrial on Wednesday, claiming that police didn’t turn over all their evidence in the case.

Prosecutors presented new phone calls made by Gregory Wheeling from jail, which the defense said they knew nothing about. The defense added that they felt the introduction of the new evidence irreparably harmed their case.

The judge denied the motion, but also chided police.

Jurors visit site of deadly crash

On Tuesday, jurors visited the site in South End near Mac’s Speed Shop, where Putnam was hit and killed.

Police shut down the busy street, and motorists were detoured around that area between Iverson Way and Ideal Way.

The jury was brought there so they could judge the distance in the street for themselves and decide whether a sober driver who was doing the speed limit would have been able to stop in time to save Putnam's life.

"When I first walked up and made contact with him, one of the first things I observed when he started to speak to me, his words were slurred and I could smell the odor of alcoholic beverage," Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Nathan Crum said.

Crum was one of the first officers to talk to Wheeling after the accident.

"I asked him what happened,” Crum said. “He explained to me that someone had darted out in front of him."

Prosecutors introduce DOT camera footage

Prosecutors introduced Department of Transportation camera footage Monday afternoon, which showed Gregory Wheeling's black Audi zooming past other cars on South Boulevard in January 2016.

The impact that killed Kelli Putnam happened moments later.

Witnesses said they were traumatized by the crash and how gruesome the scene was after that speeding car struck Putnam.

Opening statements

In opening statements on Monday, prosecutor Heidi Perlman said that while witnesses were shaken, Wheeling appeared not to care.

“Bronsyn Stewart vomited in a parking lot, Rick Pearson prayed with his daughter and the defendant, he went back to his car and got some gum,” Perlman said.

Defense attorney George Laughrum told jurors that Putnam was drunk with a blood alcohol content of .20, and that she was not careful crossing South Boulevard.

"She didn't stop. She didn't look and she didn't listen. That's a tragedy for everyone here,” Laughrum said.

Laughrum had argued in pretrial motions that prosecutors should not be allowed to use the test results because deputies refused to let Wheeling get his own independent blood test.

(Gregory Wheeling Jr.)

The magistrate also did not set bail for him, which he was legally entitled to.

Prosecutor Heidi Perlman told Judge Yvonne Mims Evans that enough blood was drawn so that the defense could do its own testing, but Laughrum argued that didn't meet the legal standard.

"The state misses the point here. It's an independent test, not the same blood, not the same people who drew it," Laughrum said.

Perlman acknowledged that mistakes were made at the jail, but she argued that Wheeling never asked for an independent test even though his family did. She said he didn't invoke his rights.

"Not one witness says Gregory tried to get a blood draw, I want to get my own test -- not one witness," Perlman said.

Laughrum also asked that the charges be dropped because of the jail's mistakes.

The judge disagreed, though, and will allow the state to present DWI results from Wheeling's test.

"The defendant, himself, did not request an independent evaluation; therefore, the court concludes that he has not been denied his rights and the motion is denied," the judge said.

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