The man facing charges in the death of a golf cart driver in Effingham County has a lengthy criminal background spanning over twenty years, in at least two counties, and with more favor and grace from the courts than some receive in a lifetime.
The Georgia State Patrol arrested Donny Lee Johnson in 2020 for the October 2019 death of James “Tommy” Carter. Carter and his wife were in their Bloomingdale neighborhood on a golf cart on September 17, 2019 when Johnson struck the cart from behind. Johnson was in a pick up truck at the time. SCRT Investigators with the Georgia State Patrol alleged Johnson was under the influence at the time of the crash.
Carter’s wife was seriously injured and Tommy Carter, though transported to the hospital for care, succumbed to his injuries in the weeks that followed.
Long History in the Courts
A review of Johnson’s arrest history in Effingham and Chatham counties shows that Johnson was in and out of the court system for twenty years. Despite guilty pleas for felony offenses, Johnson routinely received probated sentences without prison time – including for a Robbery conviction in Chatham County.
At the time of the arrest crash which killed Tommy Carter, Johnson had two pending DUI cases in Effingham County and two pending DUI cases in Chatham County.
Police across jurisdictions also charged Johnson with upwards of five different offenses of driving while on a suspended or revoked license. In Georgia, a person convicted of that offense three times, is charged with a felony for any subsequent offenses. In Effingham County, however, officials in state court routinely reduced the charge to the lesser offense of Driving Without a License.
Worse, in 2011, the Solicitor in Effingham County transferred a misdemeanor Driving While License Suspended/Revoked case to Superior Court because Chatham County convicted Johnson of the charge on three different occasions in the same year. But the Superior Court Judge in Effingham dismissed the case, which would have carried a harsher sentence and prison time.
Criminal History in Effingham and Chatham
Jailed Awaiting Trial
Since his arrest in Effingham County in 2020, Johnson has remained behind bars without bond. While defense attorneys have three times asked a judge to consider bond, it has been denied each time.
This month, however, marks three years since the death of Carter and the case still lacks a trial date. If convicted, Johnson will face a sentence of up to 15 years for the felony Homicide by Vehicle, plus one additional year for each of the misdemeanor offenses. Johnson would also receive ‘credit for time served’ in the Effingham County jail awaiting court proceedings.
Johnson also faces a civil suit for the death of Carter. He served in the Effingham County jail in 2021. The case is still pending, however, Carter did file one response.
Meanwhile, in another case in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, District Attorney Daphne Totten politicized another Homicide by Vehicle death.