Driver in deadly 2017 wreck receives 30-year sentence

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, July 12, 2018

The driver in a deadly interstate crash from October was sentenced to 30 years to serve 15 years Thursday in Troup County Superior Court.

Christopher Lee Berni, of Columbus, pled guilty and was sentenced on two counts of homicide by vehicle in the first degree predicated on driving under the influence of methamphetamine and one count of serious injury by vehicle predicated on driving under the influence of methamphetamine, according to assistant district attorney Jack Winne.

Berni was driving a semi-trailer when it slid off the curve of an on-ramp from Interstate I-185 between exits 18 and 21 on Interstate 85 on Oct. 15, 2017. Berni’s fiancée Cynthia Lynn Harris, 29, and 14-month-old son Christopher Lee Berni Jr., were killed in the accident and two-month-old son Christian Lane Berni was seriously injured in the wreck. Winne said Christian received skull fractures and brain injuries. Berni was arrested by U.S. Marshals in February, according to Winne.

“We got a lot of support from the victim’s family. There were about eight or 10 here today for the guilty plea and sentencing,” Winne said. “We all feel that justice was done in this case.”

Berni’s attorney Brett Adams said they had asked for 20 years to serve six years in prison so Berni could see his son.

“I don’t think that’s what Mr. Berni needs. I don’t think that’s what Mr. Berni’s son is going to need — the absence of a father for that long — but ultimately no matter what happened with the case, it was going to be a tragic situation,” Adams said. “It’s not like you have a defendant who specifically targeted someone. You have someone who, because of an accident that is a mistake he made, has now lost his fiancée, lost one of his sons to death, lost his other son because he’ll never be able to see the son for the next 15 years.”

Adams said the case was “tragic all around.”

“Ultimately, I think that as Mr. Berni testified with the evidence would have really shown at trial is that Mr. Berni had in fact taken methamphetamine, but that at the time of the accident he didn’t believe it was affecting him,” Adams said. “The victim obviously didn’t think he was under the influence because as everyone testified at the hearing today, no one believed she would have gotten in the vehicle if she believed he was under the influence.”