published Friday, May 30th, 2014

Varnell officer back on job after crash that injured man

  • photo
    A Varnell, Ga., police officer crashed his patrol car into another vehicle, throwing the other driver onto the pavement.
    Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A Varnell, Ga., police officer is back on the job today after crashing his patrol car into another vehicle, throwing the other driver onto the pavement.

Chief Lyle Grant placed 48-year-old Patrick John Hayes on administrative leave on May 22, the day after his car collided with a civilian's vehicle on Cleveland Highway near Broadacre Road in Dalton, Ga. A Georgia State Patrol preliminary report blames Hayes for the crash, saying he cut off the other driver while trying to turn.

However, Grant said the crash was not his officer's fault. He said Hayes flipped his emergency lights on before the crash. He had been on the side of the road, assisting another officer who was making an arrest.

Then, from the right edge of the street, Hayes tried to turn left, crossing two southbound lanes to get to the northbound side of Cleveland Highway. The other driver must not have seen the police lights, Grant said.

That information is not in the preliminary report, but on Thursday Cpl. Mitchell Moss confirmed Grant's version of events.

"There are a lot of things that are common knowledge that haven't made it to the report yet," Grant said.

According to the GSP, the front left side of Hayes' patrol car smashed 22-year-old David Nathan Gambrell's Jeep Cherokee. Gambrell, who was not wearing a seat belt, had been driving behind Hayes, one lane to the left of the patrol car.

The impact of the crash flung Gambrell out of his SUV, which rolled three times before coming to a stop on its roof. A Life Force crew then flew Gambrell to Erlanger hospital. He could not be reached for comment Thursday, one week after the crash, but his Facebook page is filled with comments from friends who say they are encouraged by the speed of his recovery.

As for Hayes, he is supposed to return to work today. Grant said he placed the officer on administrative leave after the crash because that is standard practice within his department. He said the GSP ran blood tests on Hayes that show he did not have alcohol in his system. In addition to the three work days he missed, Hayes was off for five other days, which Grant said already was scheduled.

A Varnell Police Department review board will meet with Hayes to discuss his role in the crash and whether he will be punished, Grant said. He said he did not know when that meeting will take place.

"I haven't figured out who I want on the board yet," Grant said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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