Mother urges leniency for son's killer

With $750, his saxophone and dreams of a career in music, David Wesley moved from Oregon to Atlanta within months of graduating high school.

And, there was a girl. He’d met Sarina the previous summer at a Berklee College of Music program in Boston.

“I really love her. I want to be with her,” the 18-year-old told his mother.

Kelli Salnardi insisted she drive David, her oldest child, across the country.

That was in July 2014.

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This week, Salnardi and her family again made the drive from Oregon to Atlanta to ask for leniency for the man accused of killing Wesley.

Wesley was on his way to work at a Buckhead Starbucks in the early morning hours of July 13, 2016 when he pulled over on the shoulder of the I-85 northbound ramp from I-285 to change a flat tire.

“He pulled off the road in a responsible manner,” Salnardi said Wednesday. “The only thing my son could’ve done different was stay in the car and wait for an emergency roadside help to come.”

Tavon Powell, then 21, had just finished his overnight shift and was heading home when he hit Wesley, according to investigators. Powell stopped at the scene and called 911, but it was too late.

Attorney, Matthew McNally said Powell hadn’t been on the phone before hitting Wesley, but couldn’t remember what happened or caused him to veer out of his lane. He was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide and a second misdemeanor driving charge.

Powell, now married with an infant daughter, hadn’t wanted to go to trial and entered a guilty plea Wednesday in DeKalb County state court and was granted first-offender status. Prosecutors recommended Powell spend 60 days in jail, but the judge reduced that to 15 days, including credit for one day served when he was arrested. He must serve the remainder of 12 months on probation, complete 120 hours of community service and pay $1,000 fine.

"These cases are tragic all around," McNally said Thursday. "There are really no winners."

Salnardi was the only family member to speak in court, and she asked the judge for leniency.

“Had this young man been 20 minutes in front of my son, the shoe could’ve been on the other foot,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish this on him. Grief does a lot of really bad things to people. Grief has changed him forever.”

Salnardi’s words in court were far from typical of a victim’s family member, McNally said.

“For her to get up there in court and have such a genuine sense of forgiveness and humanity, I’ve never seen such a moving act of kindness,” McNally said.

It’s her way of coping through her grief, Salnardi said. Being angry wouldn’t help the void her son’s death created.

“It hurts when I want to talk to him and I can’t talk to him,” she said. “But my family is still together, and that’s what’s really important.”

To honor Wesley, his family has created the David Wesley Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to support youth music. Through the foundation, Wesley's high school gives out an award each year in his honor. In addition to monetary donations, the foundation accepts old or unused musical instruments that can be refurbished and given to children whose families couldn't afford them.

Before Wesley started sixth grade, Salnardi’s husband scraped together the $400 needed to buy him a saxophone. He didn’t live long enough to win the Grammy award he wanted, but Salnardi said the foundation will help others follow their dreams.

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