Driver in wrong-way fatality sentenced
A Cocke County man who was intoxicated when he drove the wrong way on Interstate 40 and killed a woman and injured four others in 2012 has been ordered to serve a year in jail.
Dan Williams, 40, Lower Bogard Road, Cosby, was traveling westbound in the eastbound “fast” lane of the interstate on Dec. 1, 2012 when his 2007 Mercury Mountaineer hit a 2006 Dodge van head-on.
The operator of the Dodge, Kristy Lynn Jones, 35, Toledo, Ohio, died in the 5:13 a.m. collision and four passengers in her vehicle were injured in the crash two miles east of Newport.
Assistant District Attorney General Tonya Thornton told Judge Ben Hooper Williams was traveling at 70 mph with no lights and had a blood alcohol level of .17 at the time of the collision. In addition, a bag of marijuana was found in his vehicle.
“An off-duty North Carolina officer was westbound and saw the Williams vehicle in the eastbound lane. He flashed his lights and honked his horn trying to get the attention of the driver but he was unable to do so,” Trooper Tyler Hall said soon after the crash. He indicated there was no evidence that either vehicle braked before impact.
Two occupants in the Jones van were critically injured and two small children sustained minor injuries.
The occupants of the Jones vehicle were headed to South Carolina where they were to meet a grandfather and then travel on to Disney World in Florida.
Williams appeared in Cocke County Circuit Court using a cane as the result of injuries he sustained in the crash. He had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, two counts aggravated assault, two counts vehicular assault and DUI. He faced a term of eight to 10 years on the homicide charges and two to three years on the other offenses.
Hooper heard testimony from half a dozen witnesses during the two-hour sentencing hearing.
Jones’ family members testified to the emotional trauma of the children who lost their mother and were seriously injured in the crash. They indicated the family had left Ohio early to avoid having to pay a toll on the main highway.
“I wish we hadn’t tried to save money by leaving early,” said Jones’ fiancé, Ronald Boone, in a statement read to the court.
Another relative, Patricia Bucher, showed the court a display of photos featuring Jones and her injured daughters.
One of the injured girls, Megan Jones, argued for a lengthy sentence for Williams saying “if he doesn’t get much time it will send a message that you can drink and drive, and it’s OK.”
Another witness argued Williams should go to jail “because there is no probation for Kristy and there shouldn’t be for you.”
The witnesses also decried the fact that Williams and his family did not contact them after the crash. But several of the defendant’s family members sobbed as they related their wishes to contact the victim’s family but were told by insurance company lawyers to have no contact.
Thornton asked the court to impose an 18-year sentence.
But several witnesses testified that Williams is a good family, church-going man, who was not known for drinking or using drugs. The defendant apparently had been prescribed an anti-depressant medication similar to diazapam, which can cause sleep disorders.
Dr. Candi Overholt testified Williams should not have used alcohol with his prescribed medication.
The defendant sobbed and apologized to members of the Jones family, saying he doesn’t remember anything about the morning of the crash.
During questioning by Defense Counsel Bill Leibrock, the defendant told the court, “I am confused about how this happened. It’s not the life I live and what I strive for.”
He went on to say he feels he deserves the continuous pain he experiences.
“Sometimes I want to die. I should have died. It would have been easier for my family … but if I could I would take her place,” he said.
The court then imposed an eight-year sentence. After serving a year in jail, Williams will be in the Community Corrections Program for the balance of the term.
-By Ray Snader, Tribune Correspondent