published Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Man gets six years probation in fatal Marion County crash

Donnie Lee Slatton, 39, of Whitwell, Tenn.
Donnie Lee Slatton, 39, of Whitwell, Tenn.

A Whitwell, Tenn., man netted six years' probation in a guilty plea to homicide charges stemming from a May 2011 crash that killed a 41-year-old Marion County mother and grandmother, according to court records.

Donnie Lee Slatton, 40, pleaded guilty this week to criminally negligent homicide in the death of Phillis Lynn Watts, who left behind a son, daughter and grandson, Marion County Circuit Court records state. Criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony.

Slatton was ordered by Circuit Court Judge Rusty Graham to serve six years of probation and 100 hours of community service at no less than eight hours per week, records state.

The victim's mother, Dale Watts, said Friday that she and her family were not satisfied with the judgment but will "have to live with it."

"We would love to have seen some jail time come out of it," Watts said, adding that she thought the Tennessee Highway Patrol did a good job with its investigation.

"We have had a very tough year," she said. "I don't think our family will ever recover from this. This man is going to continue to live his life, raise his children and see his grandchildren. My daughter's life was cut short."

The plea and sentence stem from a crash on state Highway 108 just west of Whitwell a little after 9 p.m. CDT on May 1, 2011, according to newspaper archives and law enforcement reports.

Tennessee Highway Patrol records show Phillis Lynn Watts was traveling south on Highway 108 when she "suddenly lost control [and] violently veered left into a spin," Trooper William Collins' report states. Watts' 1999 Chevrolet Camaro struck the sign at Janie's Grocery with the rear of the car and then a utility pole on the driver's side, the report states.

Collins described Slatton's vehicle, a 1997 Chevrolet pickup truck, as a "noncontact" vehicle, but stated that Slatton "admitted to chasing ... Watts prior to the crash," the report states. Slatton also left the scene of the accident, records state.

Slatton originally was charged with criminally negligent homicide, vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, records state. The remaining charges were retired.

Slatton also was sentenced on an unrelated DUI charge -- an arrest that happened June 18, 2011, just a few weeks after the fatal accident, records show.

For that crime, Slatton was sentenced to 48 hours in jail and 11 months, 29 days probation, ordered to run concurrent with the homicide sentence. Slatton also had his driving privileges suspended for one year, records show.

Aside from the probation order, Graham ordered Slatton to pay a $350 fine in the DUI conviction, records show.

Dale Watts said she feels like the plea does give some sense of closure.

"I do, because that's one step that's over with. It's as much as I'm going to get. I have to live with that," she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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