SMITH LAKE - A Decatur couple charged last year with criminally negligent homicide in the July 4, boating accident that resulted in the death of Kelsey Starling will not stand trial.
Nick Bowling Suggs has pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of negligent operation of a water vessel. His plea agreement resulted in the dismissal of charges against his wife, Jodi Wallace Suggs, according to court documents.
An order dated June 5, and signed by Circuit Court Judge Daryl Burt notes that Nick appeared via video conference with his attorney, Jason Paul Knight. Upon hearing the charges against him and having them read and explained, Nick pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of negligent operation of a water vessel.
The plea was done in compliance with an administrative order approving the remote administration of oaths to witnesses in court proceedings and depositions dated March 24, an order extended numerous times.
Nick’s plea to the lesser misdemeanor charge from the former misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide means the case is dismissed with prejudice, according to the order. This means that the state cannot file another charge against Nick based on the same grounds.
The sentence imposed against Nick stipulated that he be imprisoned in the Winston County Jail for a period of six months, upon which he is entitled to a total jail time credit of zero days, the order read. However, the jail sentence was suspended, with the defendant placed on unsupervised probation for six months, the order continued.
A condition of Nick’s probation includes paying court costs, a $25 victim’s assessment fee, a $150 bail bond fee and a $2,100 fine, the order stated.
All of these monies are payable through the circuit clerk’s office in monthly installments of $100 beginning July 15, continuing each month until paid in full, the order also stated.
After the Suggses were indicted in August, 2019, on criminally negligent homicide charges, the attorney for both defendants filed a motion for a more definite statement and to dismiss the indictments. A hearing was held on that matter Feb. 13, officials added.
Burt denied the motion to dismiss, but granted the motion for a more definite statement.
The charges of criminally negligent homicide stem from a boating accident late in the evening on July 4, 2019, in the Indian Cave Hollow on the Rock Creek portion of Smith Lake near Arley, when a 2012 Mastercraft wakeboard boat and a 2011 Harris FloteBote pontoon boat collided, authorities said.
At the time of the collision, 10 people were reportedly on the wakeboard, with four injured and taken to local hospitals. Starling was reportedly on the wakeboard when the collision occurred, causing the wakeboard to overturn, authorities said. Starling was not found after the accident, and authorities and search teams from all over came to Smith Lake to search for her. Her body was found Oct. 5, 2019, in the depths of Smith Lake after multiple search operations.
The driver of the wakeboard, William Jackson Fite, of Decatur, was arrested and charged with boating under the influence, earlier reports confirmed. Fite pleaded guilty on Aug. 26, 2019, to BUI and was fined $2,100 and sentenced to 90 days in jail, according to an order entered in Winston County District Court. However, Fite’s sentence was suspended, with the defendant placed on unsupervised probation for two years, as well as ordered to pay court costs and a bond fee of $70, according to court records.
The charges against the Suggses were handed down by a Winston County grand jury, which convened the week of Aug. 19. The Suggses turned themselves in to authorities Aug. 20, 2019, at the Winston County Jail, with each making a $3,000 bond on their charges and was released.
The accident resulted in additional injuries, including to Jodi Suggs, who was named as the driver of the pontoon boat, authorities said.
Starling was a speech pathologist teacher at Tuggle Elementary School in the Birmingham City Schools district.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.