LAKE, Whitney Leigh

Whitney Leigh Lake

Birth: December 28, 1992
Death: January 26, 2008


Whitney Leigh Lake of Wicksburg passed away Saturday, January 26, 2008 of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. She was 15 years old.

Funeral services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at Cornerstone Bible Church with the Rev. Bobby Marks and Minister Mark Turner officiating. Burial will follow in Sunset Memorial Park with Robert Byrd of Sunset Memorial Park Funeral Home directing. The family will receive friends from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at Christian Home Church of Christ. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to Christian Home Church of Christ.

Whitney was born on December 28, 1992 in Spring Hill, FL, and resided in Homosassa, FL prior to moving to Wicksburg in 2006. Whitney attended Lacanto primary and middle school in Lacanto, FL and was a freshman at Wicksburg High School. She loved listening to music and dancing. Whitney attended Cornerstone Bible Church.

Survivors include her parents Terry and Rebecca Lake of Wicksburg; sisters, Mandy Carlson of Citrus County, FL, Jordan Lake of Wicksburg; grandparents, Dennis and Juanita Lake of Spring Hill, FL, Royana Miller of Spring Hill, FL, Millie Shreve of Spring Hill, FL; several aunts and uncles.

Robert Byrd of Sunset Memorial Park, Funeral Home and Crematory, LLC, of Dothan, is in charge of arrangements. For more information please call (334) 983-6604.

Burial: Sunset Memorial Park, Midland City, Dale County, Alabama, USA

Criminal Details

The Dothan Eagle
Matt Elofson – Aug 22, 2008

The parents of a teenage Wicksburg girl said justice prevailed Friday after a jury returned a guilty verdict against the man charged with murder for causing their daughter’s death.

After nearly three hours of deliberation, a jury found Robert Yancey Wills guilty of reckless murder.

Wills, 40, of Newton, faced the murder charge for the death of 15-year-old Whitney Leigh Lake on Saturday, Jan. 26. Wills has been held in the Houston County Jail on a $500,000 bond since his arrest.

“I think justice was served,” said Rebecca Lake, Whitney’s mother. “Everybody was extremely compassionate. It’s almost like it was their daughter too.”

Lake died from injuries she suffered in a single-vehicle crash, which ended a high-speed pursuit by Houston County Sheriff’s deputies. The crash happened at a creek bridge on Judge Logue Road, several miles off U.S. 84 in the Wicksburg community. Wills was Lake’s legal guardian at the time of her death.

Wills could face 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the class A felony conviction. He will have a sentencing hearing on Sept. 30 in front of Circuit Court Judge Ed Jackson.

“I want to thank everybody in case,” said Terry Lake, Whitney’s father. “Even Deputy (Tracy) Ward. I thought he did his job and he took some grief over it.”

The fatal crash happened after Houston County Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Ward attempted to question Wills, the driver of what Ward referred to as a suspicious vehicle. Wills sped away instead and crashed a few miles away.

Terry Lake called the jury’s decision the “right” verdict. The jury had three other choices during their deliberations, including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and vehicular homicide.

“We want to thank God because we did a lot of praying,” Terry Lake said. “Nobody wins in this situation. I even feel sorry for their family a little bit.”

The jury’s verdict left several members of the Wills family in tears. Wills’ defense lawyer, Michelle Berthiaume, said the verdict left them saddened.

“We thought the fairer one would’ve been vehicular homicide,” Berthiaume said. “Unfortunately the jury found him guilty of the higher charge.”

Closing arguments

Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska told the jury he didn’t have to prove Wills intentionally killed Lake, only that he killed her in a reckless manner.

“He had to get away because there was no way he could explain why he was with a 15- year-old who didn’t have a bra on,” Valeska said. “This is a little girl who didn’t have her under pants on who was with a 39-year-old man.”

Pictures of Lake’s bloody body were shown on two televisions in the courtroom as Valeska made his closing arguments.

Valeska argued Wills fled from law enforcement because a deputy caught him acting suspiciously in a parked vehicle on a secluded road. He questioned why Wills didn’t stop to change his wet clothes from a hunting trip at a gas station instead of changing on a side street. Valeska argued Wills wasn’t changing his clothes, but getting dressed when the deputy shinned a light into the truck.

“There was no legal justification for the stop, not until he ran the stop sign,” Berthiaume said.

Berthiaume also argued Wills and Lake only wanted to “get comfortable” before they stopped off at a store on their way home.

“He said he caused her death while he was driving, it was an accident,” Berthiaume said. “It’s not like he went out of his way to do something malicious.”

Berthiaume suggested jurors choose from one of the lesser included charges.

She also argued her client was only traveling too fast for the conditions of the road. Previous testimony showed it was raining at the time of the crash.

“He cared about that girl,” Berthiaume said. “He’s dying every single day because of this issue.”