This story was last updated at 12:30 p.m.
An Oak Ridge woman has been charged with homicide in the death of a motorcyclist in a fatal car-motorcycle crash on North Illinois Avenue in January 2016. It’s one of two new felony charges added in the case against Noelle Leigh Patty, 40.
Patty is accused of criminally negligent conduct that resulted in the death of motorcyclist Rufus E. Shephard III, 44, of Oak Ridge, at the western exit of the Westcott Center, the Kroger shopping center, on January 31, 2016.
Patty was indicted by the Anderson County Grand Jury on August 1, 2017, and she is facing five criminal charges. Two of the charges are felonies, and three are misdemeanors. The two felony charges, which are both new, are criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment when a deadly weapon is involved. The three misdemeanor charges are failure to obey a traffic control device, failure to provide proof of insurance, and failure to yield the right of way, resulting in death.
The crash occurred between a Cadillac STS car and Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle on Sunday evening, January 31, 2016, at the western exit of the Westcott Center, the Kroger shopping center. Authorities said Patty, who was driving the Cadillac, made an improper left turn from a right-turn-only lane at that exit, and she failed to yield to Shephard, who was riding the motorcycle north on North Illinois Avenue. Shephard died after colliding with the car, which was turning south in “the pathway of northbound traffic,” Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Chris Luethge said in arrest warrants filed after the crash.
Patty had initially been charged on three misdemeanor counts of failure to yield the right-of-way, resulting in death; a violation of the law to obey traffic control devices; and a failure to provide proof of financial responsibility. Those charges were bound over, or sent to, the grand jury after a preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge on January 19.
Patty was arrested Wednesday, and she has an arraignment scheduled for August 28 in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton.
Witness Lori Tuten testified during the preliminary hearing in January that she was behind the car hit by Shephard’s motorcycle, and the car was turning right because of a concrete curb that forces drivers to the right—but then the car went to the left.
“Once she got past the curb, she went to the the left,” Tuten said. “She was kind of veering to the right, like the lane was designed for, then she turned left.”
Tuten said she could hear the motorcycle coming, and it “T-boned” the car.
The crash, which flipped Shephard into the air, occurred a few seconds after the car turned onto North Illinois Avenue, Tuten said.
“It was like he had no reaction time,” Tuten said. “It was very loud and very traumatic.”
Another witness who had just turned right onto North Illinois Avenue from Oak Ridge Turnpike the night of the crash said the car was turning the wrong way coming out of the west side of Kroger, and he slowed down when he saw it.
After the crash, he checked for a pulse on Shephard but didn’t find one. Emergency responders arrived and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, he said.
Questions were raised during the preliminary hearing about how fast Shephard might have been traveling and whether he was doing a wheelie.
Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Ben Haines said Patty told him the night of the crash that the motorcycle was going fast and the front wheel was in the air or coming off the ground.
But Tuten testified that she did not see the motorcycle doing a wheelie. And Tuten didn’t think the motorcycle was traveling at an excessive speed, according to prosecutor Vickie Bannach.
In closing arguments during that hearing, Bannach said two witnesses had testified that Patty had turned left into Shephard’s driving lane. The right turn only is clearly visible, with a concrete island and arrow both directing drivers, Bannach said.
“You would have to go right and then turn left to miss the curb,” she said. Patty failed to obey the posted sign, and her statements haven’t been consistent, Bannach said.
The vehicle she was driving was pointed to the left (turning south) at the time of the crash, contradicting statements that Patty was going right, Bannach said.
“She’s made contradictory statements,” Bannach said.
Patty, who had reportedly made a trip to Kroger for a friend, told police she had planned to turn around or make a U-turn at Ivanhoe Road, and she did not see any oncoming traffic, according to officer testimony during the preliminary hearing.
“She stated to me that she did not see anything coming,” Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Matthew Johnston said. “She knew that she could not turn left.”
Patty had lacerations around her face, Johnston said, which would be consistent with looking out her driver’s side window at the time of the crash.
During cross examination by defense attorney Mike Ritter, Haines said Patty was very remorseful and very upset about the crash.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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