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Athens woman sentenced to prison for hit-and-run death of UGA student

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Knox Whiten

By Joe Johnson

An Athens woman was sentenced to prison Monday for killing a University of Georgia student and fleeing from the scene.

As part of a negotiated plea with prosecutors, 29-year-old Virkerria Lacole Steward pleaded guilty to first-degree homicide by vehicle, hit and run, driving while license suspended, and making a false report of a crime, according to her attorney, Benjamin Pearlman.

In accordance with the plea deal, Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Eric Norris sentenced the woman to 17 years with the first seven years to be served in prison and the balance on probation, her attorney said.

Virkerria Steward

Athens-Clarke County police said the incident happened early the morning of March 21, 2021, when Steward’s car struck and killed 21-year-old Knox Whiten, a UGA student from Toccoa, who was walking in a travel lane of the Athens perimeter, with his back against traffic in the early morning hours of March 21, when he was fatally struck from behind by a Chevrolet Cruze driven by 28-year-old Virkerria Lacole Steward, who fled the scene, according to Athens-Clarke County police.

A week after the fatal hit and run, Stewart and her mother, 59-year-old Sophia Harris Steward were each charged with false report of a crime, for reporting that the Chevrolet Cruz that struck Whiten had been stolen had actually been torched in Jackson County, in what police said was an attempt to destroy evidence.

Sophia Steward

Assisting in the cover-up was Sophia Steward’s husband, 49-year-old Roderick Dejuan Marble, according to police.

Roderick Marble

Sophia Harris was charged with false report of a crime and tampering with evidence; she and her husband were each charged with arson in Jackson County. The status of those cases were not immediately available.

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To the Whiten family; I felt compelled to send a note because I too know of the loss of a UGA student, my son, Benjamin Lloyd Cloer. I feel deeply for you because I know the depths of sorrow only those who lose a child know. You are not alone in this kind of struggle. Even though we do not know each other, we are bonded by this kind of tragedy. I wanted to send my heartfelt sympathy and let you know that you are in my thoughts and my prayers. May you all have the strength to bare the impossible burden you are enduring and the grey future you see now may someday have some brightness to it.


Replying to

To the Whiten family: I can vouch for Steve Cloer. He is a good man who grieves each and every day for his son, Benjamin Lloyd Cloer,. Joe Johnson


Unknown member
Sep 13, 2022

If she had just stopped she probably would not be going to prison even if she was DUI... The idiot was walking in a travel lane on a highway. Even if you are sober it would be hard to see him in time and avoid hitting him while moving 70-75 MPH at night.

Replying to

You’re damn right we pushed to lock her up. She should not have been behind the wheel anyway. She was driving without a license with multiple charges and warrants out for her arrest in two other counties. She is a habitual offender. As for my nephew, there is evidence that he was lost and trying to get to a safe place. And, my family showed her AND her mother and father more mercy than you know. Her max was 22 years. If you are so concerned, maybe you should spend your days in the courthouse getting all of the details.

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