Note: This story was last updated at 10:30 a.m. July 30.
Bond was reduced to $100,000 on Tuesday for an Oak Ridge man accused of killing one person and injuring 11 people in a parking lot crash after July 4 fireworks.
There were concerns about whether Lee Cromwell, 65, considers himself a “sovereign citizen” and denies governmental authority, and Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Roger Miller reported that Cromwell was somewhat defiant at his arraignment.
Still, Miller lowered bond for Cromwell from about $205,500 to $100,000, more than cutting it in half.
Cromwell was released Tuesday evening. He is prohibited from contacting the victims.
His attorney, James Scott, argued during a bond hearing on Tuesday that bond had been set too high, and Cromwell, who has been incarcerated since last Wednesday, has been overcharged. He faces 17 charges, including three different types of homicide charges, 12 counts of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and a charge of driving on a suspended license.
James Robinson, 37, of Knoxville, was killed in the crash. He had been watching fireworks with his wife and two daughters.
Cromwell told police that his throttle stuck, but officers have found no evidence of that. Still, Scott said he expects to raise mechanical issues in Cromwell’s defense. He said the victims should consider a case against Daimler Chrysler, and he asked Miller to reduce Cromwell’s bond to $69,000.
But prosecutor Vickie Bannach argued that Cromwell had denied the existence of any government authority, and she raised concerns about whether he will show up for court hearings.
She objected to the lower bond, saying the charges are very serious.
“We’re talking about a loss of life,” Bannach said. “This defendant should be considered a danger in the community…The bond is reasonable. It should not be lowered.”
She said Cromwell didn’t check on anyone after the crash, he stayed in his truck talking on his cell phone, and he revved his motor like he was going to flee. She also cited the injuries to Robinson and the number of victims.
Bannach returned several times to questions about whether Cromwell considers himself a “sovereign citizen” and the claims that he “denies any complaint against his natural body.”
“He denies corporate existence,” Bannach said. “They have no authority over him.”
Cromwell filed an affidavit in Oak Ridge City Court on May 29, 2014. In that affidavit, which contested a speeding ticket, he said he denies the corporate existence of the United States, Tennessee, and a long list of other agencies, including in Oak Ridge and Anderson County. Among them are the Oak Ridge Police Department and Anderson County Sheriff’s Department. Cromwell was found guilty when he failed to appear for a hearing on June 12, 2014. Tennessee officials confirmed last week that his license is suspended.
Scott, who said he was “exceptionally pleased” with the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing, assured the court that his client would show up for hearings. He pointed out that Cromwell hadn’t fled between the crash and when he was arrested 18 days later.
“I don’t know what his ideological beliefs are,” Scott said. “The bottom line is: We’re going to show up.”
But Miller agreed that Cromwell’s beliefs are relevant to whether he shows up for court.
“His beliefs and ideologies are pertinent and relevant on whether he’s going to show up in court,” Miller said.
Tuesday’s hearing included testimony from Cromwell’s wife, Mary Frances; Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Ben Higgins; and victim Michael Eldridge.
Cromwell’s wife testified that she and Lee have been married three decades, attend Beech Park Baptist Church in Oliver Springs, and he is active with KARM (Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries).
She testified that Lee Cromwell is a licensed electrician who is a union member and has worked for himself.
“He’s been an excellent provider for his family,” she said.
She said he lost his electrical license in Knoxville about three to four years ago, but it was another man’s fault. She said her husband has a license in Oak Ridge, but she doesn’t think he needs one in Anderson County.
Higgins testified that the scene was very chaotic when he arrived on July 4. He said firefighters were treating Robinson when he arrived, and Cromwell was sitting in the driver’s seat. Robinson was under the truck, Higgins said.
Robinson died of blunt head trauma and blunt upper torso trauma, among other injuries, Higgins said.
Cromwell handed him an expired card from the Tennessee Valley Authority, Higgins said. When he asked the driver for his license, Cromwell said he had sent it back to the state, and he didn’t need it, according to Higgins’ testimony.
Before he announced the lower bond on Tuesday, Miller said, “This is a tragic event.”
In lowering the bond, he cited the positive testimony of Cromwell’s wife, including about church and community activities, which showed he appeared to be a “good citizen and good person.”
But, “I am concerned with the written statements of Mr. Cromwell that he denies the existence, basically, of the courts of Tennessee, county, city, or state,” Miller said. “That concerns me.”
Also, Cromwell showed some defiance at his arraignment, Miller said.
But bond ensures that the defendant will show up, and Cromwell has strong ties to the community, Miller said.
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