Family wishes punishment was steeper for Tabitha Wheeler

Graves County prosecutors recommend Tabitha Wheeler serve 20 years in prison. She’s charged with assault and wanton endangerment from a 2013 crash that seriously injured teenager Corey Gentry.

Wheeler also faces charges for running and hiding from police. She was later found in Texas, but the victim from that car crash — Corey Gentry — has been rehabilitating at home ever since.

For Corey’s mom, Vanessa Gentry, a drink of water at the Graves County courthouse was the big milestone. It was the first time Corey drank from a fountain in years, still recovering from a near deadly crash.

"Who sits on their couch and cries because their son can turn the water off and on?" Vanessa said. 

The crash happened two years ago. All five people in the car were injured —including Tabitha Wheeler, who was behind the wheel. But, for Corey and his mom, the crash meant a sentence longer than 20 years.

Vanessa and Corey came to the courthouse for a different milestone: to see the person who forever changed their lives answer for her actions. Vanessa remembers seeing Wheeler become emotional as the recommended sentence was announced.

"And then she did her pitiful poor me cry and put her head down," Vanessa said.

Commonwealth Attorney David Hargrove is glad for a conviction, but he says no one wins in these cases.

"Corey and his mom have to deal with this for the rest of his life, and, even though (Wheeler) goes to prison, her life is ruined," Hargrove said. "Not like that bothers me much."

Vanessa and Corey say they’re the ones serving a life sentence.

Wheeler walked by, mouthing the word sorry: an apology that came too late.

"She said she was sorry. I don’t believe she’s sorry," Vanessa said.

Vanessa said they will not pursue a civil case against Wheeler because she doesn’t own anything for it to be worth their time.

Wheeler will be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of her sentence, or four years. Hargrove believes Wheeler will serve much longer than four years.

Judge Timothy Stark will formally sentence Wheeler on Dec. 15.

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