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Decatur driver who ran over his girlfriend in fatal DUI crash gets 5-year prison sentence

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Sidney Flinn


DECATUR — Sidney J. Flinn, the Decatur drunk driver who ran down and killed his girlfriend, was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday.

As Macon County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Griffith pronounced sentence, there were gasps and cries of anguish from court benches packed with relatives and friends of the 23-year-old victim, Brittany M. Shelton.

One woman, who was escorted out of the courtroom, cried out “Five (expletive) years for murder? Five (expletive) years?” Other family members broke down in tears and had to leave the court, unable to contain their emotions.

They had wanted Flinn to get the maximum allowed under a sentencing deal negotiated by his attorney, Philip Tibbs. That had seen Flinn, 28, plead guilty to a charge of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol causing death, with a sentencing range stretching from probation to a cap of 12 years, all custodial sentences to be served at 85%. As part of the deal, a charge of reckless homicide and three additional counts of aggravated DUI were dismissed against the defendant, who has a previous DUI conviction from 2011.

Shelton’s mother, Heather Yancey, was one of several family members who had earlier made victim impact statements. Yancey, sobbing, told Flinn he had made her life unbearable without her daughter, who had left a young son who can’t understand “where his mommy is.”

Yancey continued: “I can’t have her back, no one can, ‘cause she was ran down like a dog. I pray you get the maximum sentence for this crime, because you gave me a life sentence with no parole.”

Shelton had died about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 16, 2019. She had been out drinking with Flinn at a Decatur bar the previous night and then continued drinking with him and friends at a house on Greenhill Road, authorities had said. There had been an argument and they had left, Flinn driving off in a large pickup truck while Shelton looked for a lost cellphone before setting off herself on foot.

Decatur Police Officer Craig Lundy, an accident reconstruction expert, told the court that Shelton had been walking in the middle of the 3500 block of Greenhill Road, near the crest of a hill, when she was hit from behind by Flinn’s truck, flying along at an estimated speed of 55-60 mph in a 30 mph speed limit zone.

The force of the impact severed Shelton’s spine. Lundy said an autopsy showed she was killed at the scene by this and other massive injuries.

Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott said Flinn had not called for help initially after the crash but had instead called a friend from the party and asked him to help move Shelton’s body, which the friend refused.

Flinn had also called his father and had left it to others to call the police. Several hours after the crash, he was found to have a blood alcohol level of .091; the legal limit is .08. He also had traces of cannabis in his urine.

Scott called the speed involved in the accident, Flinn’s impairment and his actions afterwards as “outrageous.” Asking for a maximum sentence of 12 years, he added. “He’s obviously learned nothing from the DUI which he had previously.”

Flinn had stood up in court to tell Shelton’s family he was sorry and to insist while they believe the collision was intentional, it was a genuine “accident.”

“It was very hard on me also ... I find it hard to sleep sometimes,” Flinn added. “I’ve done my best to get through it.”

Tibbs had asked for probation or, failing that, a minimum sentence. He said Flinn now stayed away from alcohol, held a steady job and was a good father to a child of his own. He also pointed out that Shelton had been drinking the night of the accident and a toxicology report showed she had both alcohol and traces of cannabis and methamphetamine in her body. And he said the police reconstruction showed Flinn had hit the brakes a moment before the impact.

“Obviously, very poor decisions were made, but not just by Mr. Flinn,” he said.

Griffith said no sentence he gave would make this situation right, and he had to find a balance given the circumstances. “Regardless of what I do, I can’t bring Brittany back,” he added. “And I can’t impose a sentence based on vengeance.”

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid


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