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Jury convicts driver

Van struck woman who fell from Jeep

POSTED: February 8, 2012 4:00 a.m.

A Dawsonville man awaits sentencing after a jury found him guilty in connection with an incident that claimed the life of a 24-year-old Gainesville woman in 2010.

The jury took less than four hours Feb. 3 to reach its verdict against Colon Louis Hartzler, who authorities said was driving under the influence of alcohol when passenger Jenna Fitzgerald fell from his Jeep and was struck by a minivan on Ga. 400.

Hartzler, 45, was found guilty of vehicular homicide and DUI. He was also convicted of making false statements and a seatbelt violation.

He was acquitted of reckless driving and another vehicular homicide charge.

Sentencing is set for March 22. Hartzler could receive nearly 20 years in prison.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said he hopes Fitzgerald's family can find peace in the verdict.

"It was tragic for such a young woman to lose her life because the driver of the vehicle she'd been in was driving under the influence of alcohol," Darragh said.

"It is my hope that her family may find some measure of peace from the fact that Mr. Hartzler was held accountable through the jury's verdict of guilty."

The incident happened on June 25, 2010.

According to reports, Fitzgerald fell out of the Jeep, which had no passenger side doors, as Hartzler turned left onto Carlisle Road from Ga. 400 south.

She was struck by a minivan, as was Hartzler, who had stopped to help her. The other driver was not charged.

The Georgia State Patrol's collision reconstruction team investigated the wreck.

In a similar but unrelated case, a Dawson County man pleaded guilty last week to DUI and vehicular homicide charges in an April 19, 2011, head-on collision.

Erik Van Wertz, 38, received a 15-year sentence on Feb. 2. He must serve eight years in prison and the remainder on probation.

State troopers said Wertz was traveling at a high rate of speed on Auraria Road when he struck an oncoming vehicle driven by 24-year-old John Paul Castanon.

Both men were flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where Castanon died from his injuries.

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