An Anderson County man pleaded guilty on Monday to criminally negligent homicide in the death of a 19-year-old woman in a single-vehicle crash on US 25W in May 2013.
Justin Lee Seeber, 28, also pleaded guilty in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton to reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon.
The crash on May 28, 2013, killed Amber Elaine Smith of Knoxville, a graduate of Hardin Valley Academy who attended Roane State Community College.
Seeber’s two-year sentence was suspended, and he was placed on state-supervised probation. As a standard offender, his release eligibility was set at 30 percent. If he successfully completes probation, he will not have to go to prison. But if he violates probation, he will have to serve prison time, authorities said.
Seeber is to obtain a drug and alcohol assessment and comply with any recommendations from that assessment. He is to report back to Criminal Court on January 29 for a status hearing on his payment of court costs.
Seeber had been indicted by the Anderson County Grand Jury on July 1, 2014, on a total of eight charges. The first two counts were vehicular homicide by recklessness (for the death of Smith) and reckless aggravated assault (for serious bodily injuries to Jeremy Myers). Those first two charges were amended to criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon as part of the plea agreement filed on Monday. Both convictions are felonies.
A third charge, a count of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
The other five charges included in the indictments in July 2014 had been reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon (for placing Tyler Gavin in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury), violating the restrictions of a conditional license, reckless driving, driving when his license (Seeber’s license) had been revoked because of a conviction of driving under the influence, failure to use due care, and speeding (driving 74 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone).
But a judgement filed in Anderson County Criminal Court on May 14, 2015, said the misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, speeding, driving on a license revoked because of a DUI, failure to use due care, and failure to wear corrective lenses were dismissed because they were barred by the statute of limitations.
A judgement filed this past Monday (October 30, 2017) said a 12-person jury was unable to reach a verdict on January 26 on the charges of vehicular homicide, reckless aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment.
That is what is known as a hung jury, when the 12 members cannot unanimously agree on a conviction.
“We have to calculate that as part of our decision,” said Dave Clark, district attorney general in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County. “At least one jury concluded that there was not enough evidence to convict.”
It’s possible that the jury was not able to reach a unanimous conviction because this was a case that hinged on speed only, Clark said. There was no evidence of intoxication.
He said the speed had to be calculated by experts, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol had one expert and the defense had another.
So, the question was, could the prosecution convince all 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that the THP expert was right and the defense expert was wrong?
Smith’s family did not object to the plea agreement, Clark said, and neither did the other passengers. The agreement also had to be approved by Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge.
One of the passengers testified for the state, while another testified for the driver, Clark said.
Emily Faye Abbott was the prosecutor. Andrew Farmer was the defense attorney.
The crash was investigated by the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The THP reported at the time of the crash that Seeber, who was then 23, had been driving a 2006 Jaguar XT3 sedan north on Highway 25W shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday, May 28, 2013, with three passengers when the car veered off the roadway and hit a ditch before re-entering the road and coming to rest, according to a news report by WYSH Radio in Clinton. Smith died in the crash, and Seeber, Gavin, and Myers were injured, that report said. None of the car’s occupants was wearing their seat belts, and the THP report said a seat belt might have saved Smith’s life if she had been wearing it.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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