A Kentucky truck driver apologized Friday to a victim’s family after being convicted of causing an I-24 crash that killed two young people on their way to Bonnaroo in June 2013.
“I really am sorry,” Stacy Colvin of Campbellsville told Sue Morris, the mother of Deja Morris, 25, who died in the wreck last summer. “I’m up all night. It’s got me all messed up.”
The Morris family traveled to Murfreesboro from Indiana for the fourth time to seek justice in the death of their daughter and her boyfriend, 28-year-old Brandon Wilson. A grand jury previously declined to indict Colvin on criminal charges. Drug and alcohol screens from a blood draw at the crash scene were negative, according to testimony.
“I’m glad you stopped us (to apologize) before we got out of the room,” Morris said. Moments earlier, she told the court that Colvin had shown no remorse since the wreck and in a Facebook message said “accidents happen.”
Following a nearly three-hour hearing, General Sessions Judge David Loughry found Colvin guilty of failing to yield and exercise due care when his tractor-trailer slammed into a line of eastbound traffic sitting on I-24 at the South Church Street exit. The Class A misdemeanor netted him a $500 fine and one-year loss of his license.
State Trooper Matthew Pennington testified he was the first to the scene shortly after midnight June 13 after being dispatched to a fender bender on I-24. Pennington said he was coming off the New Salem Highway and still looking for the minor wreck when he saw a yellow flash and then a fire.
When he got to the scene, he saw two vehicles on fire and the tractor-trailer on its side, blocking the interstate. A total of nine vehicles were involved, said Pennington, who used his fire extinguisher to put out a fire in one vehicle.
When he first talked to Colvin that night, Pennington said the trucker told him he dropped something on the floor, tried to retrieve it and when he looked up couldn’t stop soon enough to avoid the vehicles in front of him.
Later, Pennington testified, Colvin told him a vehicle pulled in front of him from the right and that he hit his brakes and tried to swerve to the right to keep from hitting it.
Because fatalities were involved, Pennington contacted Sgt. Allan Brenneis, a supervisor on the Tennessee Highway Patrol Critical Incident Response Team. Brenneis testified he sent Trooper Justin Boyd to the scene to start an investigation and then arrived just after 1 a.m. to begin reconstructing the accident.
Troopers worked until about 11 a.m. piecing together evidence and inspecting every vehicle involved, he said.
Information from the truck showed it was traveling 72 mph in the center lane and that it laid down 50 feet of straight skid marks before it hit the vehicles sitting in line on the interstate, Brenneis testified.
The trooper’s investigation concluded that inattentive or distracted driving by Colvin caused the crash. “There’s nothing whatsoever other than driver error that can contribute to this crash,” Brenneis said.
Colvin’s attorney, Mark Regan, tried to establish that Brenneis’ investigation was made up of information gathered after the incident and that the state produced no eyewitnesses to the crash.
District Attorney General Bill Whitesell, however, pointed out that most THP wreck investigations take place after the fact and that Pennington and Brenneis both interviewed Colvin, who was an eyewitness.
Colvin testified Friday that the wreck happened after he checked his mirrors and two cars suddenly pulled in front of him and stopped, one just 15 feet away, forcing him to slam on his brakes.
But in the initial interview with Pennington and a later one with Brenneis, Colvin didn’t say anything about a car pulling into his path and stopping, Whitesell said.
Colvin also testified that traffic was not at a standstill and that he was in the far right lane. The THP investigation, however, showed his brake marks in the center lane and that he ran into the vehicles as they were sitting still or going possibly 3 mph.
Judge Loughry found that traffic was stopped because of the fender bender Trooper Pennington was trying to find. Traffic was moving around 70 mph down I-24 behind the backed-up Bonnaroo crowd, and “if you’re not paying attention, it’s going to be hard to stop,” Loughry said.
He pointed out that Colvin changed his story and noted that the people who were hit couldn’t be good witnesses because they “didn’t have a clue to what happened.” It was nighttime and they couldn’t see what was coming up behind them, he said.
“If he knows what Bonnaroo’s all about, he should know it’s a time of the year to be careful,” the judge said.
Furthermore, truckers have a greater responsibility on the interstates because of the size of their vehicles and loads, even if cars pull in front of them sometimes and make driving difficult, Loughry said.
In sentencing him to the maximum penalty, Loughry encouraged Colvin to write the victims’ families a letter of apology.
Besides mourning the death of her daughter, Morris was upset that the driver’s actions led to such a light sentence under Tennessee law.
Colvin gave the family some relief at the courtroom door.
“I’m a human being,” he told them, explaining he wouldn’t intentionally hurt anybody. “I’m just passing through this world day by day. I don’t want nobody mad at me.”
Said Sue Morris, “It’s unfortunate that we had to meet.”