A Newton man will spend at least 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder for a motor vehicle crash that claimed the life of a Caldwell County pastor.
Zachariah Arthur Carl, 32, entered his guilty plea during Catawba County Superior Court on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, and was sentenced to an active prison term of 15 to 19 years by the Honorable Gregory R. Hayes, Superior Court Judge from Catawba County.
Carl also pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, possession of an open container and driving with license revoked (impaired revocation). He will serve his prison term in custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Corrections.
“This is one of the most tragic and senseless deaths I’ve ever seen. That’s the reason for the judgment,” said Judge Hayes, who also required that Carl keep a picture of Vanderburg with him while he serves his prison sentence.
District Attorney David Learned presented a summation of the facts to the Court related to the events on the night of Dec. 6, 2016, that led to the death of 43-year-old Michael Howard Vanderburg, pastor of Abundant Life Church of God in Hudson.
The defendant was the driver of a Chevrolet 3500 series truck that ran a red light and struck a Honda Odyssey minivan driven by Vanderburg around 6:20 p.m. on N.C. Highway 70 near Conover. The crash killed Vanderburg and sent to the hospital his three children (ages 13, 11 and 7 at the time) who also were in the minivan when the fatal crash occurred.
According to investigation by the North Carolina Highway Patrol, Vanderburg was attempting to make a left turn on to N.C. 70 when Carl ran through a red light and struck the minivan. He had consumed alcohol at two local restaurants prior to the fatal crash, and his blood alcohol level was .28, more than three times the legal limit.
Carl’s license was revoked and he was on probation at the time of the crash from a 2015 driving while impaired conviction in Caldwell County.
“I can never express in words how deeply sorry I am for what happened on Dec. 6. That evening will forever haunt me,” Carl told the Court. “I stand before you here today ready to accept responsibility for my actions.”
Learner spoke of how life had completely changed for the Vanderburg family, noting how the pastor no longer was available to his wife, children or congregation as a result of the tragic crash more than nine months ago.
Vanderburg’s widow Ashley addressed the Court, along with his mother-in-law Joyce Hester and sister Michelle Federick. Assistant District Attorney Melanie Earles also read letters written by Marjorie Vanderburg (Michael’s mother) and Abi Vanderburg (his daughter).
“I’d never wish this pain on anyone. We struggle to find a new normal when all we want is the old normal,” Ashley Vanderburg said. “I don’t want people to forget how much he meant to us.”
Ashley Vanderburg told the Court she wanted to see Carl receive punishment for his actions but also noted that her prayer was that he would experience a heart change while serving his time in prison.
“We all need to realize that who you are right now is not who you have to be,” she said. “Without a heart change, Mike’s death will be in vain. Mike was too good a husband, son, father and pastor to be forgotten. My prayer is that (Carl) will turn his life around and enter society as a changed man.”
David Learner and Melanie Earles handled prosecution for the District Attorney’s Office.
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