Man gets 10 years for DUI crash that killed Emerson mayor, wife

A Calhoun man will spend a decade in prison for a crash that killed the mayor of Emerson, Georgia, and his wife.

William Bryan Abernathy, 52, pleaded guilty in court this week to six counts of first-degree homicide by vehicle, six counts of serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, and two counts of driving under the influence,

Officials say Abernathy was drunk on Dec. 10, 2022, when he lost control of his truck while speeding on Knox Bridge Highway, eventually crashing into a 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe driven by Emerson Mayor Albert Pallone.

The impact of the crash sent the Santa Fe spinning into oncoming traffic where it overturned and then was hit by a GMC cargo van. Abernathy's truck then hit a Mazda 3.

William Bryan Abernathy (Cherokee County District Attorney) 

Abernathy told deputies that he hadn't drunk any alcohol and "did not remember anything," but admitted later to "drinking a few beers," officials said. Witnesses reported seeing Abernathy's truck "flying" down the two-lane highway, zigzagging, and trying to pass cars on the shoulder of the road before the crash. A test later showed that Abernathy's blood alcohol level was .249 - more than three times the legal limit.

MORE: "He loved this city": Emerson community devastated by sudden loss of mayor, wife in DUI crash

Pallone, 65, and his wife. 69-year-old Camilla Pallone, died at the scene from blunt force trauma. The other two drivers suffered serious injuries, but thankfully survived.

"This tragedy could easily have been avoided had this defendant made the responsible decision to refrain from driving his vehicle that day. There is never a reason to put lives in danger by driving while intoxicated," said District Attorney Susan K. Treadaway. "Our hope is that the sentence provides some closure to those who were injured and the families and friends who lost loved ones."

Following his guilty plea, a judge sentenced Abernathy to 30 years with the first 10 to serve in confinement. He will also need to go to treatment for his substance abuse, perform 120 hours of community service, and handle other penalties.

Community mourns death of Emerson mayor

After the accident, flags flew at half-staff at the Emerson city government buildings where Pallone served his community for nearly 40 years. Pallone spent 23 years as a council member before he was elected mayor. Beyond the festive holiday lights surrounding the buildings, 

"It’s just tragic…just tragic," Mayor pro tem Vincent Wiley told FOX 5 in 2022. "They were like family to my family, personally, so it’s [really] hard right now."  

Together, the mayor and his wife shared three adult children and five grandchildren. 

Albert and Camilla Pallone (Cherokee County District Attorney) 

Gov. Brian Kemp offered condolences when news of their deaths broke saying that he, first lady Marty Kemp, and his daughters were "heartbroken."

"They will be deeply missed by their loved ones and the community that they served so well," Kemp wrote on Twitter.

Officials say friends and family members filled the courtroom during Abernathy's plea hearing to show their support for the victims.

"The Pallones were much loved by their family and their community," Assistant District Attorney Pete Lamb said.