Published: Nov. 16, 2009, 11:58 a.m.
John Ludwig, the Greenville businessman who drove his Maserati through a house killing a man inside, pleaded guilty Monday morning to reckless homicide.
Saying it would serve no purpose to send him to prison, Circuit Judge James C. Williams Jr. suspended a five-year jail sentence to three years probation and 500 hours community service.
Ludwig had faced up to 10 years in prison on the charge.
In return for his guilty plea, Solicitor Bob Ariail dropped a murder charge against Ludwig.
“I am not moved or influenced particularly with the amount of money he has made,” the judge said before imposing his sentence. “I am moved and influenced with what he’s done with it.”
Ludwig swallowed hard once as the judge said he accepted his guilty plea.
Ariail asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence, saying there were only four years since 1992 in which Ludwig hadn’t been convicted of speeding or found at fault for a wreck.
“His continued behavior shows he does not heed warnings, any warnings, from law enforcement or the court to slow his speed down,” he told the judge. “He was traveling at a speed in excess of any posted speed limit in this country.”
As Ariail revealed details of the case in Courtroom 8 in the Greenville County Courthouse, using a Powerpoint presentation with maps, illustrations and pictures, it was eerily silent save the occasional click of a camera shutter.
Ludwig stared at the screen, his family sitting behind him, as Ariail told the judge Ludwig was traveling at least 85 miles per hour.
Ariail said Ludwig and Will McKibbon, who had been Ludwig’s business attorney, left a wedding reception at Green Valley Country Club on April 25 and agreed to meet for dinner in downtown Greenville.
In a statement given to investigators, McKibben said he saw Ludwig traveling several hundred yards behind him, Ariail said. When McKibben looked back again, he saw Ludwig pass him on the left side of the road in a no-passing zone, cut back in front of him and lose control, Ariail said.
Ariail said accident reconstruction specialists from the Highway Patrol put Ludwig traveling at least 85 when he lost control. The speed limit was 35.
“The actual speed could have reached 100 mph,” Ariail said.
The car traveled more than 342 feet before Ludwig applied the brakes, he said.
The car crashed into a tree, went airborne over an embankment and landed 12 feet inside the house of Bill Bardsley, who was killed as he watched television in his living room.
The Bardsley family was not in the courtroom but issued a statement through their attorney asking the judge to hold Ludwig responsible for his actions.
“The depth of our loss is immeasurable and beyond our expression,” attorney Pete Roe said on behalf of the family.
Ludwig told investigators he swerved because he saw two deer. Ariail said McKibbon didn’t see any deer.
“John has always admitted he was driving in a reckless manner,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins said Ludwig did not know there were houses beyond the tree line, which his defendant thought would stop the car.
Wilkins offered the possibility that one of the reasons Ludwig may not have been able to stop his car is because of problems with the car’s front suspension system.
In Ludwig’s defense, Wilkins put up a long line of character witnesses, from his high school football coach to his pastor. They talked about Ludwig’s contributions to charitable organizations.
“There’s a lot more to this man than those 15 seconds,” he said.
Wilkins said after the crash Ludwig went into the house, saw Bardsley’s wife at the top of the stairs and escorted her out of the house because he was afraid of a natural gas explosion. After being told somebody might be in the bathroom, Ludwig searched before finding Bardsley in the living room unconscious.
Wilkins said a settlement was reached last week in the civil part of the case.