October 25, 2020

Emotional father confronts drunk driver who ran over, killed his daughter

A Mississippi father said his life has been a nightmare since his daughter died in 2017 at the hands of an alleged drunk driver.

The driver, Gary White, 30, of Natchez pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday in the death of Meagan Gunter Smith, who was walking on Seargent Prentiss Drive when White hit her with his vehicle in 2017.
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Originally charged with aggravated DUI and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, Gary White, 30, pleaded guilty to the single manslaughter charge in circuit court with District 6-2 Judge Debra Blackwell presiding.

Late in the evening of Nov. 11, 2017, White was reportedly driving his GMC Yukon Denali SUV southbound on Seargent Prentiss when he hit 32-year-old Meagan Gunter Smith, who was attempting to cross the road.

At the time of the initial investigation, White reportedly claimed to have thought he hit a deer — not a person.

White reportedly went to park his car in the nearby Walmart parking lot.

Sixth Circuit District Attorney Ronnie Harper said why Smith was on the busy highway late at night is unclear and that he could not definitively say.

Test results from the Mississippi State Crime Lab showed White’s blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was .17 — more than twice the legal limit for persons 21 years of age or older, Pam Ferrington with the District Attorney’s Office said.

With a series of photographs, Gunter expressed the pain and ever-present grief that he said he has experienced since Smith’s death.

Showing a picture from the day Smith was born, Gunter held up the photo and said, “She is more than just a name. She’s was my life for more than 32 years.”

Gunter held up pictures from various stages in his daughter’s life including the last picture she made of herself before she died.

Gunter also showed pictures of Smith’s four children that were left behind, including a single picture of his youngest grandson, who is now 4 years old.

“This is what she left behind,” Gunter said pausing between tears. “His name is Gunter. She named him after me.”

Barry Gunter also showed the court a picture of his daughter’s gravesite in Greenlawn Memorial Cemetery.

“This is where it all ended. This is where my life is and where I spend most of my time,” Gunter said.

On the marker for his daughter’s grave, Gunter said he has inscribed the last post his daughter made on Facebook — a heart with date “11-11” on it. Gunter explained that he and his daughter shared a love for “11-11” and that they would share text messages and posts whenever they saw the numbers together.

“It was always daddy’s birthday,” Gunter said. “Whoever thought all of those years we had been doing that, that 11-11 would be so crucial to all of our lives.

“The last post she made on (Nov. 11, 2017) she posted ‘I wonder what God has in store for me today?” Gunter said. “Had I known, I would have locked her up in her room.”

When Blackwell asked Gunter for his thoughts about sentencing, Gunter said he had nothing personal against White and would leave sentencing up to the court.

“Other people say the electric chair, the gas chamber, I ain’t about all of that,” Gunter said. “I am just looking for some finalization for the gash that I have open in my heart.”

Gunter said he wants peace and some closure.

“If I could put all of this pain and grief out of my heart into (White’s), I would turn and walk out of this door and never walk back,” Gunter said.

White’s lawyer Alton Peterson, requested Blackwell order a pre-sentence investigation before determining his client’s sentence. A pre-sentence investigation examines any extenuating circumstances connected to the crime to help determin the severity of the sentence.

“We are dealing with very tragic circumstances,” Peterson said.

Blackwell agreed and ordered the investigation and report be made by the Mississippi Department of Corrections and filed with the court.

White’s sentencing hearing is set for March 25. Blackwell said White could remain out on bond until sentencing.