Pubdate: Wed, 09 Apr 2014
Source: Times Herald, The (Norristown, PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Times Herald


The arguments over the use of marijuana and just how it affects the 
human body rage on every day as more and more states across the 
country debate the legalization or at least the decriminalization of pot.

However, what can't be argued is that smoking marijuana is more than 
likely going to leave you in a condition that shouldn't include 
getting behind the wheel of a car. And then toss in texting while 
driving to boot and you have a deadly combination.

One young man from Lower Pottsgrove found that out in a Montgomery 
County courtoom last week as he will be spending at least the next 
three years in state prison.

Justin Matthew Jackson, 19, received the sentence, which included a 
three-year mandatory term sought by prosecutors for the homicide by 
vehicle while DUI charge.

Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill sentenced Jackson in 
connection with the March 4, 2013, crash that claimed the life of 
jogger Merinda R. Thompson, 40, a mother of two from Royersford.

"The sadness and grief in this room is choking out everything else. 
That's the nature of your actions," O'Neill told the teen. "There is 
nothing but tragedy and loss and sadness."

Jackson previously pleaded guilty to charges of homicide by vehicle 
while driving under the influence of a controlled substance, homicide 
by vehicle, recklessly endangering another person, DUI and possessing 
a small amount of marijuana in connection with the fatal crash.

The judge acknowledged that no sentence he imposed could bring 
comfort to the Thompson family.

"Merinda Thompson was a wonderful young woman who lost her life 
because of the foolish, ignorant and selfish actions of Justin 
Jackson. He made the choice to smoke marijuana and get behind the 
wheel of a vehicle. He made an incredibly stupid and selfish 
decision," Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley said as he 
argued for a lengthy prison sentence against Jackson. "He put getting 
high above the safety of everyone on the road."

Defense lawyer Martin P. Mullaney argued for a sentence of not more 
than the three-year mandatory minimum term recommended by state law 
for the DUI-related homicide.

"I'm deeply sorry for what has happened because of this tragedy. I'm 
ashamed of my actions and ashamed of the consequences. There's not a 
day that goes by that I don't think about your family," said a solemn 
Jackson, adding he never imagined that smoking pot and then driving 
could lead to such tragedy and that he never understood the bad 
effects of using marijuana.

Jackson reportedly told probation officials that he now understands 
"the evils" of pot.

Jackson's parents and his sister described Jackson as a "kind" young 
man who valued family and would go out of his way to help family and 
friends. They said he realizes he must pay a debt to society.

"He's very caring. He has a great heart. He continues to read the 
Bible," Jackson's mother, Julie, told the judge.

None of that matters now. And while the argument can rage on about 
the positive uses of marijuana for medical purposes, there's no 
debate that smoking pot and driving - as well as texting while behind 
the wheel - is just wrong.
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