Braves trainer discusses crash that killed his wife, legal process of trooper
Seventeen months later, Braves trainer Jeff Porter no longer refers to his life's most traumatic moment as an accident. Instead, he views the fatal crash that claimed his wife, the mother of his only son, as a tragedy created by the irresponsible and reckless actions of one Georgia state trooper.
"After putting some thought to it and going through the process and watching the films, it was not an accident," Porter said. "It was premeditated. Trooper [Donald] Crozier made up his mind way before the crash that he was going to do what he did."
Everything seemed normal when Porter turned right after taking the westbound Capitol Ave. exit off Interstate 20 around 4:40 p.m. ET on Dec. 31, 2011. He was within eyesight of Turner Field and approximately a mile from the Georgia Dome, where he was taking his wife and son to watch Auburn play Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Seconds later, the lives of the Porter and Crozier families would change forever.
As Porter traveled through a green light at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and Memorial Avenue, his Ford Expedition was violently struck by the state patrol car driven by Crozier, who was speeding through a red light in pursuit of a chase already in progress on I-20.
Kathy Porter, 54, died at the scene of the crash that also caused non-life-threatening injuries to her husband, 19-year-old son David and Courtney Ann Williams, who was dating David at the time.
"David and I did not believe that he entered the intersection with the intent to kill anybody, obviously," Porter said. "But nevertheless, he entered an intersection at over 65 mph and was accelerating when he hit us. He violated his oath of office before the crash, and he was sentenced accordingly."
Crozier pled guilty to three charges -- vehicular homicide, reckless driving and violating his oath of office -- during a Fulton County Superior Court hearing on April 16. He was sentenced to two years in prison and received eight years of probation.
Porter is currently experiencing his 29th season with the Braves at the Major League level. His son recently completed his sophomore year at Auburn, and he has maintained exemplary grades in his pursuit to become a veterinarian.
"I would have liked to have seen him serve more time," Porter said. "He got 10 years to serve two. All three charges added up to a whole lot more than that, maximum, but I understand how the legal process works. I never expected him to get a maximum sentence, but quite frankly, I was a little disappointed he didn't get more time to serve. His actions deserved more time, and I told him so and I told the judge so."
With the judicial process now complete, Porter can discuss some of the feelings and issues that he experienced during the 15 1/2 months that separated the tragedy and the sentencing. He was pleased to avoid reliving the events through the jury trial that would have been necessary if Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had not successfully convinced Crozier that he had violated his oath of office. This was the only charge to which the former trooper was reluctant to plead guilty.
As the pre-trial proceedings progressed, Porter became agitated when Crozier's attorney Mike Hawkins repeatedly said that his client was "willing to take responsibility." This prompted Porter to request to address the court.
"I point blank asked the judge: 'I hear he's wanting to accept responsibility, what I'm not hearing is how much responsibility he wants to take,'" Porter said. "At that point, the judge asked us if we would meet. [I] said, 'Sure, I'll meet with him.'"
During this meeting, Porter told Crozier that he did not appreciate the fact that he had remained silent for more than 15 months before choosing to address the situation for the first time during a television interview that aired the weekend before the trial was supposed to start.
"I took exception to that," Porter said. "I think he was trying to gain favor of potential jurors if it went to trial, and I told him so. I thought it was a cowardly thing to do, and I told him that. Looked him right in the eye and called him a coward, because that's what I believed. I thought he took the coward's way out. He had plenty of time to do that, express his remorse, which is what he did and I appreciate that. But he had a lot of time to do that yet he chose to do it two days before the trial started."
Porter sensed sincerity from Crozier during their face-to-face meeting.
"I don't think he's an evil man or anything like that," Porter said, "but he had a behavior problem, he had a driving problem. He had a bad record."
Crozier had been cited in at least four "at-fault" wrecks while on the job before that fatal incident with the Porters.
In an attempt to make sure his wife's memory will be preserved, Porter is in the early stages of developing the Kathy Porter Act. The details of this proposed legislation are still uncertain, but it could contain something that provides stricter penalties to law enforcement officials who are "at fault" in multiple automobile accidents.
"You have to use due regard," Porter said. "You cannot barrel through an intersection at 65 mph and never have any intention of stopping or slowing down. To me, that's the biggest sin, is no regard whatsoever for anybody else's safety."
Porter will not seek any financial gains through a civil trial and he told his son of the need to avoid feeling anger. Doing so would go against the principles and morals he had gained while growing up in rural North Carolina more than 40 years ago.
Tears poured down Porter's face as he sat at Turner Field earlier this week and told of how his friend's father, state trooper Hugh Griffin, was killed on Sept. 15, 1975. Griffin was shot at point-blank range after pulling over a group of young men who had stolen a car near Burgaw, N.C.
Porter's respect for law enforcement officials is rooted in this story. It has been enriched over the past year as he has developed a good friendship with Col. Mark McDonough of the Georgia State Patrol. Together, they have discussed potential ideas for what could become the Kathy Porter Act.
"[There are] way too many good troopers out there who do the job right," Porter said. "It was [Crozier]. It was not the Georgia State Patrol, it was that trooper. That's how I balance it. Can't say it doesn't have anything to do with the Georgia State Patrol -- obviously it does. But as a whole, they're obviously a great institution. They perform a tough and dangerous job."
Porter has attempted to gain "a new normal" as he has continued to fulfill his responsibilities with the Braves. But when coming to Turner Field, he avoids the painful memories that would stare him in the face if used the Capitol Avenue exit. He exits approximately one mile earlier and takes the side streets to the stadium.
"That just puts you in a bad frame when you are getting ready to come to work," Porter said. "Going to work, you have to be professional. I can't start every day like that."