“My body is battered and broken,” the 47-year-old Army veteran said. “I wish he could feel what I feel.”
McLean’s search for justice has been slowed down because the driver of the vehicle that hit McLean’s motorcycle was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana rather than alcohol, and state laws make that harder to prove.
Almost two years after the accident at Eagle’s Drive and Towne Lake Parkway on April 2, 2010, the man charged in the mishap is expected to be arraigned next week in Cherokee County Superior Court.
The man charged in the accident, Cody Ray Khanamakhom, was 18 at the time and had an Acworth address.
He was charged at the time with failure to yield while turning left, violation of class CP license, no license on person and driving under the influence of drugs by the Georgia State Patrol, according to the accident report.
McLean’s urgings eventually convinced the Cherokee County District Attorney’s office to indict Khanamakhom on felony driving under the influence, reckless driving and serious injury by vehicle charges.
McLean said first responders to the accident thought he was dead on the scene —McLean’s motorcycle was ripped apart and he was severely injured.
When the Kennesaw man awoke in the hospital, he had not only lost his right leg, but also suffered broken bones in his arm, hand and face and optic nerve damage in his right eye.
McLean said the accident was hardest on his son, David, who was 19 years old at the time, because David ultimately had to make the decision to allow doctors to remove his father’s leg below the knee.
But the man who is accused of hitting McLean two years ago may have only been charged with a misdemeanor had the avid motorcyclist not fought for his cause.
McLean said the complications with his case arose because the driver was charged with driving under the influence of marijuana.
Traffic offenses involving marijuana in Georgia are handled differently than those involving alcohol or other illegal drugs. According to the Georgia Supreme Court, prosecutors must prove a defendant‘s ability to drive was compromised because of the marijuana use.
The substance can stay in a person’s system up to 30 days after use, thus making it difficult to prove impairment via blood or urine tests.
“I had trouble understanding how alcohol, which is legal to sell and consume, how that’s a felony if you get a DUI (charge) with that, yet marijuana, which is an illegal substance, only gets a misdemeanor,” McLean said. “It made no sense to me whatsoever. It’s almost a double standard.”
Since initially the charge against Khanamakhom was only a misdemeanor, that meant the teen could have walked away with only a probation charge, McLean said.
McLean said after the accident, an investigator with the solicitor general’s office warned him of alleged comments on Khanamakhom’s Facebook page.
“He made … comments about how he was only getting six months probation,” McLean said, adding Khanamakhom’s page has since been taken down.
Set off by the alleged online remarks, McLean said he began contacting local media via email about his situation and has since been featured multiple times on Atlanta television stations.
“If it hadn’t been for that investigator, it would have just slid right through the cracks,” McLean said. “I didn’t think it was fair.”
But McLean said he didn’t cause the uproar just for himself.
“I think it’s my obligation to other people,” he said. “My leg’s not going to grow back. For me, its over with, but I feel like it’s my obligation to help (other) people avoid this.”
He added he hopes his case may make it possible to equalize DUI laws throughout the state, no matter the substance involved.
Solicitor General David Cannon Jr. said his office believed McLean’s case to be a felony case from the beginning. Cannon said the maximum punishment for a DUI serious injury by vehicle misdemeanor charge is 12 months of jail time, but the felony charge carries up to a five-year prison sentence.
Cannon said his office requested Cherokee County District Attorney Garry Moss look at the case to determine if it warranted felony charges, but Moss’ office initially turned down the case before eventually agreeing to take the case to Superior Court.
Cannon said he and Moss each paid for half of the cost of submitted blood tests to an independent laboratory. Moss’ office has since decided to indict Khanamakhom under the additional charges, but Cannon said the indictment was presented prior to the return of the results which he has not yet seen.
Moss said it violates the attorney’s canon of ethics to comment on the case.
“It’s improper for an attorney to speak about the facts of an impending case,” Moss said.
Khanamakhom is now in custody at the Cobb County Adult Detention Center on charges of violation of probation and has been held in the jail on two other occassions, said Nancy Bodiford, spokeswoman for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office. He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, battery, burglary and theft by deception May 13, 2010—just over a month after the collision with McLean.
According to the incident report from the Georgia State Patrol, Khanamakhom told police immediately following the accident that he last smoked marijuana about a month ago, though the officer observed his vehicle smelled like burned marijuana. He said his friends had been smoking in the vehicle earlier and he was present while they were doing so.
In the report, the officer observed Khanamakhom was swaying back and forth greater than two inches, had body tremors, bloodshot eyes, and “some of his sentences did not make sense.”
“Mr. Khanamakhom had a care free (sic) attitude, and would start yawning, then curse, and then start to cry within a matter of minutes,” the officer wrote in the incident report.
Meanwhile, McLean, who was on disability before the accident, said he has not been able to return to work since the crash and is facing $4 million in unpaid medical bills, which stem from 17 surgeries on his leg among several others.
McLean runs a website, www.jrmacpromotions.com, for the local motorcycle community that highlights charitable organizations and benefit rides he organizes and participates in, riding his Harley Davidson motortrike for various causes such as the American Cancer Society.
“I feel like it’s my obligation,” McLean said of his charity work. “So many people reached out to me when I needed it. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
Because of the accident, McLean now uses specialized hand controls to drive his motortrike in those events and as a Patriot Guard and Warrior Watch rider for fallen U.S. military personnel.
“Biking is in my blood,” McLean said. “I’d never give it up.”