Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. April 10.
An Oak Ridge woman has been indicted on charges of vehicular homicide and driving under the influence in the death of a 37-year-old Harriman mother and Roane County Schools employee in a three-vehicle crash in May.
The vehicular homicide charge alleges Vickie Gay Gilmore, 62, was driving recklessly in the crash that killed Christy Duncan, 37, of Harriman.
Gilmore has also been charged with reckless aggravated assault for injuring Duncan’s daughter Janna, who was four years old at the time of the May 6 crash at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Jefferson Avenue.
Gilmore has also been charged with reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon (a motor vehicle), reckless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident. She has an arraignment scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, April 28, in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton.
The indictments were filed Tuesday by the Anderson County Grand Jury in Clinton.
Charges against Gilmore were bound over, or sent to, the grand jury for its consideration during an October 21 preliminary hearing in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge. Two witnesses and two police officers testified during that hearing. The charges that were bound over are slightly different from the indicted charges.
The three-vehicle crash that killed Duncan was reported at about 9:47 p.m. Friday, May 6.
Witness Shellie Fellers, a registered nurse, said she was on her way home from dinner with her daughter, who was then 13, and her daughter’s best friend, who was 14, at the time of the crash.
They were waiting at the stoplight at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue, turning left onto Oak Ridge Turnpike, toward Kingston, when they heard the impact of what sounded like a “fender bender,” Fellers said.
She looked to her right toward Oak Ridge Nissan. The sound was like a car being unloaded off a car hauler.
“I looked around and didn’t see anything,” Fellers said during the October 21 preliminary hearing. “I just passed it off as it must have been something at the car dealership.”
After she turned onto Oak Ridge Turnpike, Fellers said, she saw a sport utility vehicle parked in the bicycle lane on the right side of the road.
Another car in front of her stopped to try to let the SUV into traffic, but when it didn’t, the car proceeded. Fellers said she kept her distance.
“Something just didn’t seem right,” Fellers said. “I just couldn’t see what was going on.”
The SUV then darted diagonally in front of her into the median of Oak Ridge Turnpike and stopped, Fellers said. It was facing the power substation just west of Illinois Avenue, Fellers said.
The SUV had a handicapped license plate, so Fellers thought it could be a medical emergency and she called 911. She unbuckled her seat belt to go help, but as she started to get out of her car, the SUV sped off, going from a complete stop to the driver “apparently gunning it,” headed west on the Turnpike, toward Jefferson Avenue, Fellers said.
She stayed on the phone with emergency dispatchers and cautiously followed the SUV, trying to keep a distance of 1.5 car lengths.
The SUV was “a bit wobbly” as it pulled back into the lane, and it got farther and farther away from her, Fellers said.
“So they were picking up speed,” she said.
As she approached Jefferson Avenue, she saw cars at the red light.
“I saw the vehicle make impact with two vehicles at a very high speed with no brake lights,” Fellers said. “The impact was very hard, very severe.”
One vehicle was knocked into the intersection close to the curb of a bank on the righthand side of the road. Another vehicle was hit with less damage, Fellers said.
The SUV, the striking vehicle, ended up somewhat sideways in the middle of the intersection, Fellers said.
She was still on the phone with 911. She told them she could help because she is a nurse.
“I ran straight to the car that the victim was in,” Fellers said. Someone else had made it there a few seconds earlier. There was a young child in the car. The driver’s side of Duncan’s car, a blue Nissan Altima, had been crushed from the rear tail light forward, according to witness testimony.
Janna Duncan was in the back seat on the right passenger side. She was still restrained in her car seat. It had been pushed forward at an angle, with Janna facing the window and her face inches from the window, Fellers said.
“She was very distraught,” Fellers said. “She was crying, but she was alert and awake.”
Two men were there, but they weren’t able to get the doors open. Then, a man came with a baseball bat, Fellers said.
“We yelled for the little girl to cover her face, put her head down, and he hit the front window out,” Fellers said.
With the front window busted out, the two men worked together to pry open the front door and get to Janna, Fellers said. She said another bystander who was also a nurse unbuckled the car seat and got Janna Duncan out.
Fellers got into the front passenger seat to try to help Christy Duncan, who was unconscious, not moving, and not making noise.
Fellers checked for a carotid pulse and found a faint one. She said she stayed with Christy Duncan until emergency responders arrived.
She saw a name tag hanging from the rearview mirror.
“I called her by name and told her that her little girl was out and that she was okay,” Fellers said.
Duncan’s condition did not change, Fellers said.
“By the time EMS got there, I could no longer find a carotid pulse,” she said.
A second witness, Chris McKenzie, saw the crash. He was at the Shell gas station at the intersection when it happened, in his car facing the Turnpike.
“I saw the whole thing,” McKenzie said during the preliminary hearing in October. The cars on the Turnpike were stopped at the red light, facing west toward Kingston, McKenzie said.
“It was pretty violent,” McKenzie said. “It was flash to me. I saw the cars sitting there. The next thing I know, it was glass and smoke.”
One car sitting at the red light was pushed about 40 feet, he said.
McKenzie said he was in shock at first. Then he saw a man trying to punch out the passenger side window of one of the cars.
“I went over to help him because they said there was a little girl inside,” McKenzie said. “I helped the guy who busted it out pry open the back door…We got the little girl out.”
McKenzie said he was close enough to see Gilmore in her vehicle, where he said she sat for a while, and then later on the curb. He said he could identify her by her hair, and he described her clothing.
“She looked out of it,” McKenzie said. “She looked under the influence.”
He described that as possibly being in a daze, groggy, “asleep almost.”
But under questioning by public defender Leslie Hunt, McKenzie acknowledged that he does not know whether Gilmore might have been injured or diabetic, and he said it is possible that she also could have been in shock.
Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Ben Haines said Duncan had no radial pulse on her arm when he arrived. He couldn’t get her out of the driver’s side, so he went in the passenger’s side. Like Fellers, he found a carotid pulse in her neck. He stayed until EMS arrived.
Like Fellers, he said Duncan was unconscious and unresponsive. She was breathing, but it was raspy.
Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Derek Burchfield, who has DUI training, said Gilmore had constricted pupils and droopy eyelids when he arrived, and she was calm one minute and agitated the next. She had low raspy speech, and it was like she was in a daze, Burchfield said.
Gilmore initially refused to give her name, and she said she wasn’t sure what happened before saying one vehicle hit her and then pushed her into another vehicle, Burchfield said.
That appeared to be different than what witnesses told Burchfield after the crash. In affidavits filed in September, Burchfield said, based on witness statements, that Gilmore’s black SUV crashed into the rear of Duncan’s car before sliding sideways into a silver Lexus driven by Jason Watson of Oak Ridge. Gilmore did not slow down or even hit her brakes, Burchfield said in those affidavits, which were filed in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge.
During the preliminary hearing in October, Haines said that in the brief time he spoke to Gilmore the night of the crash, she said she was turning right onto Jefferson Avenue.
After the crash, Duncan was taken by ambulance to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where she later died.
Janna Duncan was also taken to the UT Medical Center, Burchfield said. Haines said he was concerned that she might have had a concussion.
Gilmore told Burchfield that she had several medical problems, according to the testimony during the preliminary hearing in October. She said she quit drinking many years ago and had been prescribed many medications but had taken herself off of them, Burchfield said.
“She stated that she wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or narcotics,” Burchfield said.
Gilmore agreed to perform some sobriety tests, but she said she couldn’t walk a straight line or stand on one leg, Burchfield said. He asked if he could check vital signs, and he performed a horizontal gaze test. Gilmore wasn’t able to perform the horizontal gaze test or follow instructions, and vital signs—blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and muscle tone—were below normal or “very relaxed.” That indicated Gilmore was under the influence of a narcotic pain-killer, Burchfield said.
He said Gilmore refused to submit to a blood test, and police obtained a search warrant for her blood. She was very agitated, and at one point, officers had to hold her down at the jail.
She told officers they wouldn’t be able to get blood, and she fought them, yelling and cursing, Burchfield said.
Officers normally draw two tubes of blood, but they were only able to draw a small amount for a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation kit, Burchfield said. It wasn’t enough blood for a lab to check for impairment.
After asking if blood is the “gold standard” for impairment testing, Hunt, the defense attorney, suggested there could be other possible explanations for at least some of what Burchfield observed. Among those other possible explanations: insomnia, cluster headaches, trauma, eye inflammation, a stroke, head injuries, or concussion.
During the preliminary hearing, Hunt argued that there was no proof that Gilmore was under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, and there was an insufficient blood sample to check for impairment through a laboratory analysis.
But Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Roger Miller found probable cause to bind over charges to the grand jury.
The charges that were sent to the grand jury in October were vehicular homicide (due to intoxication), driving under the influence, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault.
Miller cited the testimony of Fellers with regard to driving recklessly and reckless endangerment. He said there were some holes in the testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses due to the lack of blood work, but the testimony of officers had not been contradicted and the “circumstances in totality” provided probable cause for binding over the charge of driving under the influence.
Gilmore was found guilty of violation of implied consent, and she lost her driver’s license.
Charges dismissed during the preliminary hearing were leaving the scene of an accident, failure to maintain single lane, duty upon striking a fixture, and vehicular homicide (recklessness).
Miller said he had some difficulty with the initial duplicity in the two charges related to vehicular homicide (one due to recklessness and one due to intoxication), and he dismissed the vehicular homicide charge by recklessness because he found that the vehicular homicide charge by intoxication should be bound over due to probable cause in that matter.
The indicted charges, which move the case from General Sessions Court to Criminal Court, are vehicular homicide (recklessness), reckless aggravated assault, reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, leaving the scene of an accident, and driving under the influence (first offense).
Gilmore has previously been indicted on a charge of driving under the influence in a separate, unrelated case, but she pleaded guilty on October 13, 2014, to a reduced charge of reckless driving. She was sentenced to six months in the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton, all suspended with credit for time served, and she was placed on supervised probation. A condition of her probation was to comply with all recommendations from her doctor, specifically mental health treatment if required, according to a sentencing waiver. A charge of violating the implied consent law was dismissed as part of that plea agreement.
Duncan was an employee at Roane County Schools, where she was a school social worker and worked with the student support team. She was born in Oak Ridge in 1978, and she graduated from Oliver Springs High School in 1996. She studied social work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and received her bachelor’s degree in social work in 2002. She received her master’s degree from LMU in 2015.
She attended Ridge Church in Oak Ridge, where she worked in the children’s ministry.
Assistant District Attorney Melissa Denny was the prosecutor in Anderson County General Sessions Court during the preliminary hearing.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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