By JEFFREY POWELL
Former Walton County Commissioner Herman Walker was found guilty of three traffic charges in a day-long trial that took place on April 22. The charges stemmed from an accident that resulted in the death of 38-year-old Eric Buharp. The incident occurred on July 11, 2008.
According to Buharp’s wife Shannon, who was a passenger in the vehicle along with her two sons and a family friend, the family had spent the day on a dolphin cruise in Panama City and were retuning home. As the group was traveling on CR-2A they approached a turn when they saw a semi-truck-trailer combination coming into their lane.
“We were talking about what we were going to have for supper,” Shannon said, struggling to maintain her composure. “We both realized the truck was out of control and that we were in trouble. Eric tried to avoid the truck the best he could. I thought we were all going to die.”
After the impact, Shannon rushed to get the three children out of the vehicle. When she returned to help Eric she realized he was struggling for his life. “Don’t leave me, Don’t leave me, I love you.” Shannon repeated in her testimony.
The state called an eye-witness that corroborated Mrs. Buharp’s testimony as well as Florida Highway Patrolman Cpl. Stephen Fisher. According to Fisher, Walker’s overloaded truck came across the center-line and overturned, sliding into the Buharp vehicle, which had left the roadway trying to avoid the accident. “Clearly the truck overturned in the wrong lane of traffic,” Fisher said. “The impact happened on the shoulder of the road.”
Walker’s defense team contended that the impact actually took place on the roadway and called an ex-law enforcement officer to support that claim. “I differ with trooper Fisher’s claim,” said Dalton Spears. The defense also provided witnesses that stated they felt Walker’s truck was mechanically sound and that Walker was a careful driver. Walker then took the stand and claimed that it was Buharp that had crossed the center lane, not him.
In closing arguments defense attorney Clay Adkinson stressed that the state had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Apparently, Judge David Green felt otherwise and found Walker guilty of operating a vehicle with mis-adjusted brakes, resulting in an $86 fine, guilty of crossing the center-line, resulting in a $136 fine, and guilty of careless driving with a death, resulting in a $1,136 fine and six-month suspension of his driver’s license.
Walker was also cited for an out-of-date inspection and driving an overloaded vehicle. Those charges will be heard later by officials with the Florida Department of Transportation.