published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Signal Mountain man gets 27 years in deadly crash

James T. Meeks III
James T. Meeks III
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Signal Mountain resident James T. Meeks III will be at least 36 years old before he's eligible for parole in the deaths of three people killed in a 2011 crash in Marion County, Tenn.

In a Monday hearing before Marion County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Graham that netted him a 27-year prison sentence, the 20-year-old Meeks pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide by reckless conduct and one count of reckless aggravated assault, all felonies, court records state. He was scheduled to go to trial this week.

In the agreement, Meeks accepted 15-year sentences on three vehicular homicide counts, to run concurrently, and an additional 12 years on a single count of reckless aggravated assault, tacked on for a total of 27 years, 12th Judicial District Attorney Mike Taylor said on Wednesday.

"The final plea was a result of negotiations between the state and the defense attorney," Taylor said. "The state felt like it was an equitable and fair settlement to the case, given all the circumstances."

The agreement included Meeks being classified as a career offender, which means he won't be eligible for parole until he serves 60 percent, or 16.2 years, of his sentence, Taylor said.

Meeks was arrested Aug. 1, 2011, in the deaths of Annie E. Blevins, 24; Nicholas Scott Clayton, 20; and Emily F. Clayton, 21, investigators said during the initial probe. Eric Blevins, 37, the driver of the victim vehicle, survived the crash. Meeks' guilty plea to the reckless aggravated assault count was related to Blevins' injuries.

A theft count in Sequatchie County, Tenn., and another in Gordon County, Ga., associated with the 2011 incident were dismissed as part of the agreement, Taylor said.

The charges and the plea stem from an incident that happened June 4, 2011, after the four victims had been out late at a campfire to watch people ride off-road vehicles. When they left, they encountered Meeks driving a pickup truck stolen from Sequatchie County, according to newspaper archives.

Authorities said Meeks rammed the victims' Jeep from behind, causing it to run off the road on a curve and roll over.

Tennessee Highway Patrol officers said early in the crash investigation that three of the victims were found trapped underneath the Jeep. The stolen truck later was found burned on Miller Cove Road in Sequatchie County.

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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