Driver in deadly Thanksgiving-eve crash sentenced to 16.5 years
CAMP VERDE - Cody Louis Bright, of Cottonwood, was sentenced to 16 and a half years of prison by Yavapai Superior Court Judge Michael R. Bluff Friday evening. Bright plead guilty Sept. 12 to 13 counts related to a deadly Nov. 23, 2016 accident involving three vehicles on Cornville Road.
The accident killed Bright’s passenger, 31-year-old Justin Allen Goemaere, who was a lifelong friend of Bright’s. The back-passenger, 20-year-old Shawn H. Morgan, suffered no incapacitating injuries. All three were from Cottonwood.
Both Bright’s family and victim representatives were present in the courtroom during the sentencing.
Bright, 32, accepted a plea deal that required admission to one count of manslaughter, one count of aggravated DUI, eight counts of endangerment, two counts of criminal damage and one count of aggravated assault.
He faced a maximum of 20 years in prison. Instead, he received 15 years for the manslaughter case and one and a half years for the probation violation of a DUI that occurred earlier in 2016.
Bright apologized to each of the victims by name through tears.
“I’m sorry for taking your son’s life,” Bright said. “I’m sorry to the community for putting their lives in danger.”
One mitigating factor came from the victim’s family, who asked Judge Bluff for a shorter sentence.
“I fully intended to sentence you to more years. The folks who lost their son were compassionate toward you,” Judge Bluff told Bright in court. “That is not something you see often.”
Bright’s remorse and acceptance of responsibility was also found to be a mitigating factor.
“He realized he has a serious alcohol problem. It is tragic that it took this event to realize it,” said prosecutor Michael Morrison to the court. The state did not disagree with the 15-year sentence in the vehicle accident case.
“He is fortunate the victims have been so gracious and forgiving, Your Honor,” Morrison said.
The plea deal dropped a second degree murder charge against Bright. He would have faced a maximum of 87 years if found guilty on all charges in a jury trial.
Bright previously told the court he and two friends drank “a lot of alcohol” and drove to Mormon’s Crossing at Oak Creek. When returning on Cornville Road, Bright, who was driving his red 1999 Ford Escort sedan on a revoked license, tried to pass a truck when the collision occurred.
Dwight D’Evelyn, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office media relations coordinator, stated that according to witnesses, “There were four oncoming vehicles traveling east on Cornville Road. The first three of those vehicles had to move into the westbound lane to avoid being struck by the suspect vehicle now occupying their lane going in the wrong direction. As a result, cars traveling west had to swerve onto the right shoulder to avoid those escaping a head-on collision with the suspect. The fourth east-bound vehicle, a 1995 blue Mercury van, was unable to avoid the suspect vehicle and collided. The blue van contained only the driver, a 62-year-old woman from Cornville, who was severely injured and flown to Flagstaff Medical Center.”
During the collision, explained D’Evelyn, a silver 2001 Nissan Sentra traveling west on Cornville Road was forced onto the right shoulder, overcorrected, swerved across lanes and then rolled before coming to rest on the south side of Cornville Road. The driver of the Nissan was a 38-year-old mother with her 8-year-old daughter as passenger. Their injuries were listed as minor.
The sentencing was an end to a nearly year-long case of tragedy.