At least 20 friends and family of Briana Bugg, who lost her life in the September 2, 2017, crash sat in the superior courtroom to listen to the Hollister man take the plea.
Many wiped tears from their eyes as Assistant District Attorney Kanter Morris called three witnesses to the stand — the trooper who investigated the crash and Briana’s parents, Tracy and Glenn Bugg.
All other charges against Ryland were dropped in exchange for the second-degree murder plea, a plea which led superior court Judge Alma Hinton to sentence him to a prison term between 207 to 261 months. He was also ordered to pay slightly more than $24,000 in restitution to cover medical, funeral and other expenses incurred by the girl’s family.
Ryland said nothing in his defense or to the victim’s family during sentencing and his attorney, Sammy Webb, offered no comment to Hinton. Webb had no comment afterward.
Trooper Scott Richardson of the state Highway Patrol told the court at the time Ryland had a .21 blood alcohol content, nearly three times the state’s limit of .08.
He said after the proceedings, “Hopefully now that the family has this part behind them, they can start the healing process.”
Mrs. Bugg told the court she was reading as the family traveled to Greenville for an ECU-James Madison football game. The route they took from their home of South Hill took them down Highway 43 and through Hollister when the crash occurred around 2:30 p.m.
Her husband was severely injured and Briana was laying on top of her sister, Meghann. Briana had a pulse but was unconscious.
EMS got Mrs. Bugg, her husband and Meghann out of the vehicle. Briana was taken to Nash hospital and then to Vidant in Greenville where the family learned there was no brain activity. “They let us say goodbye to her. They kept her alive until her daddy could say goodbye.”
Briana was a great kid, her mother said. “She was a Mother’s Day baby. She was a very focused young lady. She was very determined, very focused. Volleyball was her sport. She was slated to be president of the Beta Club. We miss her, we really miss her. She was the baby. She was just a really good kid.”
Mr. Bugg remembers the crash sounded like an explosion. He said during the ordeal the only Bible verse he could remember was the Lord’s Prayer. “I said the Lord’s Prayer over and over again.”
He recalls asking a paramedic to say the prayer with him and they did.
Mr. Bugg went through two surgeries. “I bled so much I must have passed out.”
When he woke up the doctors told him they tried everything to save his daughter but there was no brain activity. “She looked artificial.”
Last rites were held for their daughter. Mr. Bugg recalled his daughter’s last breath and told her to say hello to his mother and father, who Briana is buried next to. “When she let out her last breath her whole body melted.”
The last item Morris presented to the court was a video, which is embedded with this story, by a youth group at South Hill United Methodist Church created to honor Briana at their annual youth service. Briana was to serve as the president this year.
Members of the group which came to support the family had no comment after.
Mrs. Bugg said their support has meant a lot to the family. “That’s our support system. They’ve been there throughout this whole thing.”
District Attorney Valerie Asbell said in a statement, “This was a very tragic case involving Briana Bugg who was just at the beginning her adult life. She didn’t deserve to die because of Mr. Ryland’s blatant disregard for other people's’ lives and the criminal laws.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Ms. Bugg and hope that today will help give them some closure and start the healing process as far as the criminal case is concerned.”
Asbell said, “This wasn’t the first time Mr. Ryland had exhibited this horribly selfish behavior and on the date he killed Ms. Bugg, his blood alcohol was almost three times the legal limit. I am very pleased with the outcome of this case whereby he was convicted of second-degree murder and received the maximum sentence he could receive. He will not be given the opportunity to hurt anyone else for a very long time.”
Said Asbell: “I want to thank Assistant District Attorney Kanter Morris for the excellent job she did preparing this case for trial. She is a diligent and dedicated public servant and spent countless hours preparing this case for trial. I would also like to commend the state Highway Patrol and Trooper Scott Richardson for his thorough investigation and help from the time of arrest until today.
“As District Attorney, my office will continue to seek stiff punishments for those people who choose to drive impaired and kill people. I am a strong advocate for stricter impaired driving laws including the recommendation by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving that North Carolina should require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk driving offenders not just certain level offenders.
“The ignition interlocks are in-car breathalyzers that stop a vehicle from starting if the drivers blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit and it is the only technology that is currently available to block an impaired driver from drunk driving. Only 30 states require interlocks for all convicted impaired drivers and North Carolina is not one of them.”
Morris said in the statement, “This is a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided but for the selfish choice the defendant made to drive under the influence of alcohol. He should never have been driving that day. No judgment the court can give will ever make up for the loss of their daughter; however, hopefully today will bring the family some closure as they continue to adjust to a new normal without Briana. Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with the Bugg family.”