When most troopers get a call about a wreck with serious injuries or a fatality, it’s business as usual. It is rare that the voice on the other end is informing them about a fatal wreck that involves a loved one.
On November 21, 2005, at approximately 7 p.m., Buddy and Nancy, were leaving their daughter’s house after dropping off their two grandsons. A utility truck was traveling westbound on Bass Road in Macon (Bibb County) when the driver ran off the north shoulder, struck three mailboxes, over-corrected and then struck the Ford Festiva driven by Nancy, in the eastbound lane. After the wreck, Manning mulled around the scene for a few minutes talking to the witnesses who had gathered by the roadside. He eventually left the scene into the woods before first responders arrived on scene. Nancy died on scene and Buddy was transported to Macon Medical Center with a detached thumb, broken femur, and a sternum that was broken in seven places. Buddy was kept alive with the help of a breathing machine until the family had to make the hard decision to take him off of the one thing that was keeping him alive 16 hours after the horrific wreck on Bass Road.
The driver was identified by the evidence left in the vehicle which include pill bottles, an insurance card, and other miscellaneous items. After collecting the evidence, the Bibb County Sheriff announced that Luther Steven Manning age 58, from Macon, was a person of interest. Not only was Manning a person of interest, he was an eight-time habitual violator with several DUIs who had never served a day in jail. He was on active probation with Monroe County at the time of the crash. The next morning, Manning turned himself in around 10 a.m. to a captain with the Sheriff’s Office at the medical center. He needed medical treatment due to a cut under his eye and a broken rib. After treatment, he was taken into custody.
In 2006, Manning plead guilty in a blind plea to two counts of vehicular homicide (1st degree), habitual violator, and leaving the scene of a crash. He was sentenced to two, concurrent 20-year life sentences and will be eligible for parole in 2022. Each year this trooper and his family write letters to the Parole Board regarding the release of Manning hoping that they can keep him in jail as long as possible so that he cannot hurt anyone else.
This horrific and deeply personal experience changed the way Capt. Les Wilburn, who in 2005 was the sergeant at Post 1 in Griffin, deals with victims of any kind of crash. Prior to this incident, the manner in which Capt. Wilburn dealt with most victims was business as usual. He only wanted the facts he needed to make the case prosecutable. He began to realize that in every wreck a trooper investigates, whether it involves injuries or not, there are victims that need to be treated with respect and compassion. He felt he could do a better job of taking care of the victim instead of putting the focus on prosecuting the violation. He accomplished this by taking that extra step to explain to the victim, the who, what, when and how of dealing with the crash, as well as how to handle the after effects. He has shared this with the troopers who worked at his post and to those he taught in trooper school because as a victim, he realized that there are a lot of steps towards getting one’s life back to normal.
The irony of this life experience, is that from day one as a trooper, Capt. Wilburn always had the drive to write DUI tickets. In fact, he worked on the Nighthawks DUI Taskforce in Atlanta. Capt. Wilburn said, “Everyone has their own little niche when they join the Georgia State Patrol and mine was locking up impaired drivers.” Losing his parents to an impaired driver taught him that there is another side to every crash…the victim.