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Driver who killed Orchid man expected to plead guilty


The woman charged with killing Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer in a hit-and-run incident in Savannah in January 2015 is expected to plead guilty to vehicular homicide at a Feb. 6 hearing in Georgia Superior Court.

"From what I've been told by the district attorney, she'll enter an open-ended plea," Meyer's daughter, Sue Ross, said last week. "She'll plead guilty, then the lawyers from both sides will argue mitigation and aggravation.

"I don't know if the family will be allowed to address the court, but we're submitting 30 victim-impact statements from family members and friends that the judge will consider before imposing a sentence."

Ross said she didn't know if Chatham County District Attorney Frank Pennington agreed to seek less than the maximum 15-year prison sentence Darcia Lavonde Hymon, 51, of Jacksonville, could receive under Georgia law if she takes her case to trial and is convicted.

Neither Pennington nor Assistant Public Defender Robert Attridge could be reached for comment.

Ross said her family was notified by Pennington shortly before Christmas that Hymon, who also was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death, had opted to enter a plea.

Ross said she and her sister, Deb Cohen of Oakton, Virginia, plan to attend the hearing, but she wasn't sure whether their mother, Phyllis, would join them. Meyer and his wife of 50 years were high school sweethearts.

"I'd be surprised to see Phyllis there," said Pat Walsh, Meyer's Orchid Island neighbor and close friend. "From what I've heard, the evidence presented at the previous hearings was fairly gruesome. So I'm glad the family doesn't have to endure a trial.

"Hopefully, the plea hearing and sentencing will bring closure for the family and they can move on."

Meyer's family decided last year to sell the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club home, which Walsh said is in the process of being purchased by another Orchid Island resident.

Walsh said he misses "seeing Peter on his back patio, drinking a Manhattan and smoking a cigar," but he understands why Meyer's widow would prefer to not return to Orchid Island.

"This was really Peter's place," Walsh said. "He loved to come down every winter and play golf, and he had a lot of friends here."

Meyer, 72, was driving to Orchid Island from his home in Quechee, Vermont, on Jan. 4, 2015, when he stopped for the night in Savannah. Traveling with his beloved Yorkshire terrier, Chili, he checked into the midtown Residence Inn.

It was already dark when Meyer walked across Abercorn Street to have dinner at the Bonefish Grill, near the Twelve Oaks Shopping Center. He was struck by an SUV as he returned to his hotel and the impact knocked his body into some bushes, where it was discovered more than an hour later.

Police told his family that he was killed instantly.

The case went unsolved for 10 months – until the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department's Crimestoppers program received a call from an anonymous tipster who identified Hymon as the hit-and-run driver who killed Meyer.

Police investigators followed up the call by driving to Jacksonville on Nov. 5 to interview Hymon at her home. Four days later, they questioned her again, this time in Savannah, where they say she "confessed to the fatal accident."

Police charged Hymon, who used the name Wilson when she was arrested, with one count of leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death. She was booked into the Chatham County Jail.

After examining the evidence, prosecutors opted to take the case to a grand jury, which handed down an indictment for vehicular homicide in February 2016. She was arraigned on that charge in April and continues to be held without bond.

Before police received the tip, Walsh had organized a campaign that raised more than $100,000 in reward money for information leading to the conviction of the person who killed Meyer, a West Point graduate who won a Bronze Star serving in Vietnam before embarking on a successful, 31-year career with Merrill-Lynch.

If the reward remains unclaimed, Walsh said the money will be returned to the donors – unless they decide to use it to honor Meyer in some other way. Thirteen of the 44 contributors were Meyer's Orchid Island neighbors or friends in the Vero Beach area; the others were Merrill-Lynch co-workers and longtime friends.

Georgia Superior Court Judge James Bass Jr. is scheduled to preside over the plea hearing, and Walsh said he and his wife are planning to be there, along with as many as "four or five other couples" from Orchid Island.

Ross said she welcomes their support.

"This has been a very tough time for our family, especially during the holidays and with the anniversary coming up, so it was a relief to hear there would be a plea," Ross said. "A trial would be immensely traumatic to sit through, and when there's a trier of fact – whether it's a judge or jury – you never know what's going to happen.

"My dad was very special and we're always going to miss him," she added, "but to have her plead guilty, admit what she did and be punished for it should help bring us some closure."