PRINCETON, W.Va. — An Illinois man was sentenced Thursday for a collision in Mercer County that claimed the lives of four family members in 2017.

Bertram Copeland, 41, of Rockford, Ill., was sentenced in Mercer County Magistrate Court to four-and-a-half years in prison, after being convicted last week on four counts of negligent homicide and one count of reckless driving. Magistrate Sandra Dorsey sentenced Copeland to one year in jail for each homicide charge and six months for reckless driving. The sentences are to be served consecutively.

On April 13, 2017, Copeland’s tractor-trailer was traveling on Interstate 77 near the Camp Creek exit, when it crossed the median, striking a passenger vehicle. The occupants, Carl Gilley, 48, Christine Gilley 42, their daughter Grace, 13, and their son Jack, 10, all of Salisbury, North Carolina, were killed in the collision. Copeland was arrested and charged in January.

Copeland had stated the truck experienced an unexpected mechanical failure and that the crash was an accident. Dorsey noted during sentencing that she had not seen any evidence from either the defense or the prosecution that there was “an unforeseeable mechanical error” which may have caused the vehicle to malfunction.

Before the sentence was announced, relatives of the Gilley family read victim’s impact statements. Copeland later spoke, apologizing for the deaths and expressing empathy to the family’s relatives.

Copeland currently is free on bond. Unless he appeals the sentence, he is scheduled to report to prison on April 4, according to the prosecutor’s office.

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