published Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Chatsworth teen in crash that killed 4 was driving too fast, report says

  • photo
    Skid marks show where a pickup truck full of teens crashed into a man mowing grass outside Eton, Ga., killing four.
    Photo by Tim Omarzu /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Georgia teens can drive only with family members for the first six months they have their Class D, or intermediate, driver’s license. For the next six months, 16- through 18-year-old drivers can have only one non-family passenger under age 21.

Only after a year of driving with a Class D license can a Georgia teen have up to three other teens as passengers.

River John Sosebee, the 17-year-old pickup truck driver whose crash at 5:18 p.m. Thursday near Chatsworth, Ga., took his and three other lives, had a Class D license in good standing, Department of Driver Services spokeswoman Susan Sports said.

But she wouldn’t say how long Sosebee had held the license, or whether it was legal for him to have three teen passengers.

“We can’t give you an issue date,” Sports said. “Georgia’s privacy laws are very strict.”

Sosebee drove too fast for conditions, according to the Georgia State Patrol crash report released Tuesday. A witness said that Sosebee was traveling faster than the posted 45 mph when Sosebee passed him heading east on a curve about 1.8 miles east of Tom Terry Road.

Sosebee’s Nissan Titan pickup truck first drove onto the right shoulder, and then skidded across the road and started rolling. It struck and killed Bryan Frank Bartley, 57, who was mowing the grass. Bartley’s riding mower was heading east, the report said, so the truck hit him from behind.

Sosebee and his girlfriend, Alexis Pinson, 18, were both wearing shoulder and lap seatbelts in the front seat. Sosebee died in the crash, but Pinson was airlifted to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga with critical injuries.

“My understanding is that she was treated and released this weekend,” Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles said.

Backseat passengers Joshua Roberts, 17, and Chelsie Hullender, 18, weren’t wearing seat belts, the report said, and were killed in the crash.

Sosebee’s blood was tested for drugs and alcohol, the report said, but test results were still pending.

Funeral services were held Sunday and Monday for the four dead.

“We’re all grieving,” said Andrew Parker, assistant public works director for the city of Dalton, where Bartley worked for 17 years. “He is sorely, sorely missed.”

Bartley was a sanitation crew leader for Dalton, Parker said, and before that he was paving foreman until 2008 when the city did away with its paving program. Bartley’s son also works for the city.

“He paved just about every street in the city of Dalton,” Parker said of Bartley, who mowed grass as a side job.

“Bryan was a quiet person. He was a very intelligent person,” Parker said. “He was a very humorous person, as well. At the end of a conversation, he would say a one-liner, and everybody would bust out laughing.”

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/ TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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