RIDGELAND, SC (Feb. 13, 2020) – A Georgia woman whose 22-year-old passenger died after being ejected from her vehicle has been sent to prison. The driver, Tessa Marie Openlander, 26 of Richmond Hill, Ga., pleaded guilty Thursday to driving under the influence resulting in death.Openlander’s blood-alcohol level was measured .15, more than twice the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle. Openlander was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Christopher Michael Clark of Savannah was killed after being ejected from the rear seat of Openlander’s vehicle. He was not wearing a seat belt. The vehicle ran off the roadway near Bellinger Hill and Chalmers roads in the Levy community of Jasper County and run into a ditch. Clark was thrown from the car and struck a fence post. Openlander and a second passenger received minor injuries in the collision.
Each were wearing their seatbelts. A highway patrolman’s report noted that Openlander “was so grossly impaired, she was unable to stand without assistance.” Openlander’s prior convictions include a 2014 driving under the influence and a 2015 reckless driving charge, both from Georgia. Dustin Whetsel of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office prosecuted the case. Whetsel is a member of the Solicitor’s Office’s Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the circuit’s most serious and habitual offenders.