By Brad Hicks
District Attorney General Tony Clark said his office and law enforcement officials are continuing to investigate several factors in the June crash that resulted in the death of 18-year-old Unicoi County High School graduate Ashlie Padgett.
The juvenile driver involved in that crash had a hearing in Washington County Juvenile Court on Aug. 31. Clark said the juvenile, who has not been identified, has been charged with vehicular homicide by recklessness, among other charges.
“As far as investigative-wise, there’s still some open things that we’re looking at, there’s still some witnesses that are being tracked down and some follow-ups on them,” Clark said. “My office, in conjunction with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, is handling that.”
Padgett, who graduated from UCHS in May, was killed in the single-vehicle crash that, according to officials, occurred in the early morning hours of June 10.
According to a previous report from the Johnson City Press, Padgett was sitting between two other people in the cab of a pickup truck when the vehicle slid off Buffalo Mountain.
According to the crash report, the crash occurred as two teenagers – one of whom was Padgett – and an adult, identified as 21-year-old Christopher Thomas, were headed down Buffalo Mountain toward Dry Creek Road. The crash report stated the 16-year-old driver said his brakes failed on a downhill slope of Firetower Road and the truck went off the right side of the roadway onto a dirt path, the Press previously reported. The truck struck a tree then rolled over and came to rest against another tree. The driver and Thomas were able to get out of the truck, but Padgett remained trapped inside.
Padgett died three days later at the Johnson City Medical Center as a result of injuries sustained in the crash, which occurred on the Washington County side of Buffalo Mountain. None in the truck were wearing seat belts, according to officials.
On July 19, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release announcing the July 18 arrest of the juvenile driver. According to the release, the juvenile had been charged with vehicular homicide, underage consumption, curfew violation and aggravated assault by recklessness.
According to the WCSO, the juvenile was arrested after turning himself in to the sheriff’s office after the charges were filed in Washington County Juvenile Court.
Clark said two adults have also been charged in the case. Thomas has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and Lucas Clark, who was involved in the crash, has been charged with filing a false report.
“He was questioned about some matters dealing with the truck and the vehicle and the individuals involved, and that was the basis for that charge,” General Clark said of Lucas Clark’s charge.
Both Thomas and Lucas Clark are scheduled to appear in Washington County Sessions Court on Sept. 12.
Even though charges have been placed, General Clark said investigators are still working to acquire information.
“We want to follow up on anyone and everyone that has information about what happened prior to the wreck,” he said. “In looking at the information so far, we have to determine what the proximate cause of the accident and the wreck was.”
General Clark said as far as the ongoing investigation, officials are looking into the possibility that the truck involved in the crash had mechanical issues.
“Mechanically, we’re looking at the truck to get the full accident report done,” he said.
Investigators are still looking at the use of alcohol as a contributing factor, General Clark said. He said even if drinking was involved, the prosecution must show that this was the proximate cause of the crash to bring the charge of vehicular homicide by impairment.
“That’s what we have to show for vehicular homicide by impairment,” he said. “For recklessness, we have to show the person acted recklessly in their actions, knew something was wrong mechanically with the car or they were acting in a reckless manner.
“In this case, it might be the combination of many things, so that’s why we’ve charged recklessness instead of impairment on this particular case.”
General Clark said investigators are also working with Padgett’s family and keeping them apprised of developments. He said he spoke with members of the family the day of the juvenile driver’s court hearing and had also met with them the week prior.
“I think when I spoke with them, she was supposed to start college that day, so it’s been a very traumatic and difficult time for them,” General Clark said, “but they’ve been in court, they’ve met with us, my staff has met with them, and we’re going to continue to meet with them and try to answer their questions and get everything that we can together before we go forward with the prosecution.”