published Friday, March 4th, 2011

Lane asked co-worker ‘to lie’

  • photo
    Dan Ripper, defense attorney for Jeremy Lane, questions Jessica Williams, a former Chattanooga Billiards Club employee, on a previous statement she had made to investigators. Lane is accused of vehicular homicide in the 2009 death of Susan Wood. He also is accused of driving under the influence. Earlier, Williams testified that she, Lane and another employee of the club smoked pot and drank beer the morning of the fatal accident.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The 26-year-old defendant in a fatal 2009 hit-and-run casually dismissed the death of a woman he struck and asked his co-worker to help him lie about it.

“This is Jeremy, I’m calling to tell you everything’s all right and, uh, the thing that we talked about last night didn’t happen and, uh, I told them we were drinking beer in the parking lot after work, so give me a call back,” according to the voice mail message sent by Jeremy Allen Lane.

Prosecutors played the 19-second recording Thursday during the testimony of Jessica Hunt, a waitress at the Chattanooga Billiards Club. She worked with Lane on Dec. 23, 2009. Prosecutors say Lane left the club about 7 a.m. and fatally struck Susan Wood, who was walking to work at Unum.

He is on trial on charges of vehicular homicide and DUI. His defense rested Thursday without Lane testifying. The jury is to begin deliberating this morning in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Hunt testified that she and Lane left the CBC in separate cars and she called his cell phone. She said they were talking when Lane interrupted her midsentence and said, “Oh my God, I think I just hit someone.”

Hunt said she continued talking, thinking Lane was joking.

“No, seriously, I think I just hit someone, I’ve got to go take care of this,” Lane said, and then hung up.

It was later that day or early the next morning, Hunt said, when Lane called and left the voice mail on her phone.

She later shared that recording with police.

On Tuesday Lane’s attorney, Dan Ripper, entered guilty pleas for him on charges of filing a false report and leaving the scene of an accident.

If convicted of vehicular homicide, Lane could face eight to 12 years in prison.

During closing arguments Thursday, District Attorney General Bill Cox and Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston detailed the charges against Lane and recounted testimony from the three-day trial: After finishing work at CBC at 3:30 a.m. Lane and co-workers stayed at the bar to drink. During the nearly four-hour impromptu party, co-worker Jessica Williams and Lane smoked marijuana in a downstairs restaurant cooler as another co-worker, Sylvester Pierre, watched.

Both Pierre and Williams testified Lane pulled the plastic bag of marijuana out of his pocket and smoked it out of his own glass pipe in the cooler.

Pierre, Williams and Hunt also testified that Lane drank that night but disagreed on how much they saw him consume.

Police officers testified earlier that after the hit-and-run, Lane stashed his battered red 1995 Nissan 240SX sports car at the Riverview Grande apartment complex. He ran down Dallas Road while spinning a tale to a 911 dispatcher on a cell phone of a fake carjacking.

Rochelle Blakey, a clerk at the Kangaroo Express on Dallas Road, testified that Lane came in and bought chips and a citrus drink while still talking with 911.

Blakey said Lane had bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech — she thought he was drunk.

Chattanooga police Officer Brian Smith responded to Lane’s carjacking call. He said Lane “reeked of alcohol” but he didn’t perform a sobriety test since at that point Lane was considered a crime victim. Other officers who interviewed Lane about the supposed carjacking believed Lane was lying and questioned him about the hit-and-run.

“I don’t believe there’s one doubt in any of your minds that this man was intoxicated as he left CBC,” Cox told the jury Thursday.

In his closing, Ripper said no evidence proved his client was intoxicated.

“Not one of them thought he was drunk enough to do a field sobriety test on him,” Ripper said.

Ripper admitted the lie Lane told about the carjacking was ridiculous and mean-spirited. But he said it was Lane’s panicked reaction that made him act strangely, not alcohol.

“He’s shaken, he’s nervous, he’s upset, he’s lying,” Ripper explained.

Ripper pointed to camera footage from CBC that showed Lane drink once from a Styrofoam cup over the four-hour period.

But Cox countered that six of the eight cameras were not working that night.

In the final moments of his statements, he replayed Lane’s voice mail and recounted Hunt’s testimony about what she heard in the cell phone call.

“I wish I’d heard Jeremy Lane say, ‘I think I just hit somebody, I’ve got to stop and take care of her,” Cox told the jury.

“So you see he had to stop and take care of it another way,” he said.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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