CLINTON—Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers testified Thursday that a driver charged with vehicular homicide smelled of alcohol and said he had been drinking and had taken two anti-anxiety pills before a two-vehicle crash on Clinton Highway in April that resulted in the death of a 23-year-old Heiskell woman.
There was a half-empty bottle of whiskey found between the driver’s seat and the rocker panel of the 1993 Eagle four-door sedan, according to testimony by a crash witness and THP Trooper Isaiah Lloyd, the lead trooper in the investigation. Lloyd testified that he saw a glass marijuana pipe with residue in the center console of the car, a marijuana joint inside a prescription bottle, and at least six beer cans on the passenger floorboard of the car, although it wasn’t clear if the cans were empty or full.
The THP said Scott Gray, 26, of Knoxville, was driving north on Clinton Highway in the Eagle sedan near Mehaffey Road on Thursday evening, April 28, when he turned into the path of a southbound 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee sport utility vehicle driven by Kimberly Williamson, 32, of Knoxville. The SUV driven by Williamson hit the car driven by Gray.
The passenger side of the Eagle had significant damage, and passenger Jessica Miner Taylor, 23, of Heiskell, was trapped and critically injured. After she was extricated, she was flown by a Lifestar medical helicopter to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, authorities said. She was immediately taken into the operating room because her bladder was torn from the crash, Lloyd said in arrest warrants filed in May.
Gray was taken by ambulance to UT Medical Center the day of the crash. Williamson had minor injuries, and she was taken in a personal vehicle to Tennova North, where she was treated and released, authorities said earlier.
Miner died from her injuries about a week after the crash, on Friday, May 6, according to her obituary.
Interviewed at the hospital after the crash, Gray appeared too impaired to drive, Lloyd testified during a preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Clinton on Thursday, August 11. His blood alcohol level was reported to be 0.175 a few hours after the crash, or about twice the legal limit.
THP Sergeant Bobby Smith also interviewed Gray at UT Medical Center. Gray was on a bed with a neck brace, and he spoke “sort of intoxicated,” with slurred speech, Smith said. Gray said he had had a “couple of beers” and maybe a shot of whiskey and had taken two Klonopins, an anti-anxiety medication, Smith testified.
Most of the charges that the state had filed against Gray were bound over, or sent to the Anderson County Grand Jury for its consideration, on Thursday. Those charges include vehicular homicide, open container, improper turn/failure to yield, failure to use due care and caution, possession of drug paraphernalia, simple possession, and no insurance.
Don Layton, Anderson County General Sessions Court judge, Division I, found probable cause to bind the charges over, including because of the witness and trooper testimony of Gray cutting across lanes, the half-empty bottle of whiskey, the marijuana pipe, and alleged statements by Gray that he had consumed alcohol and had taken at least two pills.
There is no timeline for how quickly the grand jury might consider the charges. If indicted by the grand jury, Gray’s charges would be bumped from Anderson County General Sessions Court to Anderson County Criminal Court.
Witness Tim Howe testified during the preliminary hearing on Thursday. He said he and the Jeep SUV driven by Williamson were driving south on Clinton Highway just before the April 28 crash, which was reported at about 5:27 p.m. The Jeep was in the inside southbound lane, and he was in the outside lane, Howe said.
The Eagle was in the inside northbound lane and traveling quickly, Howe said.
Then, “it started cutting across all lanes of traffic,” he said.
Howe slammed on his brakes, and the southbound Jeep next to him “T-boned” the Eagle.
“It happened so fast,” Howe said. “She (Williamson, the Jeep driver) didn’t have time to hit her brakes.”
After the collision, the Jeep jumped up into the air, spun around, and landed facing in the opposite direction, Howe said. He thought it was going to flip. When he checked on her, Williamson was shaken up, but otherwise okay, Howe said.
After the crash, Howe pulled off to the side of the road. He checked on Gray, who was unconscious at the time, but had a pulse and was breathing.
After checking on Gray, Howe went through the back window to check on Miner, the passenger in the Eagle sedan. The whole passenger side of the car was caved in around her, Howe said.
“She was covered pretty much head to toe in blood,” he testified.
It appeared as through her neck was broken, and her head was backward, like it was touching her back, Howe said. The car was completely crushed, and Miner was pushed almost to the driver’s side of the car.
She was breathing but gurgling on her blood, Howe said. He tried to lift her head to see if that would help her breathe. She had blood coming from her head, but he wasn’t sure where she was cut.
“I couldn’t tell what was hurt,” said Howe, who said he doesn’t have medical training but was in the military. “Obviously, she was hurt pretty bad, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.”
He estimates he stayed in the four-door car with Miner for about 10-15 minutes. Others approached to ask if he needed help.
In the meantime, Gray regained consciousness, but it took him a little while to figure out what was going on, Howe said. Gray’s first question when he regained consciousness: How is Jessica?
Howe said rescuers had to use the “jaws of life” to cut Miner out of the Eagle. She did not regain consciousness.
Miner was already in surgery when Lloyd, who was at the Clinton Highway crash site for about 30 minutes, arrived at the UT hospital.
Gray was drowsy and said he didn’t remember the crash, Lloyd said.
Lloyd said he was unable to perform field sobriety tests and instead drew blood from Gray. He said Gray agreed, although the trooper didn’t have written consent. Lloyd dropped off the evidence at the THP office in Knoxville, and he learned that Gray had checked himself out of the hospital.
In the warrants filed in May, Lloyd said Gray had bloodshot watery eyes, dilated pupils, and slurred speech, all signs of impairment, when he was interviewed at the hospital.
“Based upon the observation of speech, eye condition, and odor of the alcohol omitting from Mr. Gray at the scene, the results indicated that Mr. Gray was impaired beyond legal limits, and normal clearness of mind was altered,” Lloyd said in the warrants. “Mr. Gray admitted to have been drinking for ‘two days straight’ and that he had taken two Klonopin and that he may have smoked some marijuana that day as well, but could not remember.”
Gray has a prior DUI conviction from 2009, Lloyd said.
Questioned by Assistant Public Defender Ann Coria on Thursday, Lloyd said he didn’t know if Gray had any medical injuries, such as an injury to his head, from the crash.
The case was prosecuted in Anderson County General Sessions Court on Thursday by Assistant Seventh District Attorney General Melissa Denny.
A few charges against Gray were dismissed during the preliminary hearing. One was driving on a suspended license, and the other was a seat belt violation. Layton said there was no evidence that Gray’s license was suspended at the time of the crash. And Lloyd testified that Gray was wearing his seat belt, although Miner was not.
Gray had been arrested a few weeks before the Clinton Highway crash for allegedly driving under the influence in Union County, according to testimony Thursday.
Before Miner died, Gray had initially been charged with vehicular assault and DUI (second offense).
He remained jailed in the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton on Tuesday evening. His bond on the vehicular homicide charge has been set at $200,000.
Among the agencies that responded to the April 28 crash were THP; the THP Critical Incident Response Team, or CIRT; THP Criminal Investigation Division, or CID; Anderson County Sheriff’s Department; Anderson County EMS; Anderson County Rescue Squad; and Claxton Volunteer Fire Department.
Mehaffey Road is a short drive from Edgemoor Road and Claxton Elementary School in Anderson County, and it’s near the beginning of a curvy, hilly section of Clinton Highway as you head toward Knoxville.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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