Man indicted in Rossville Boulevard crash death 1 year later

Man indicted in Rossville Boulevard crash death 1 year later

May 9th, 2014 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

Christopher Hinnard

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

On the eve of Mother's Day in 2013, local taxi driver Allen Phillips deviated from his usual hot spots in downtown Chattanooga to pick up customers in Chickamauga, Ga.

The East Ridge native known by his friends as a "gentle giant" wanted to drive a longer route to make a little extra cash so he could buy his mom something special.

But while cruising down Rossville Boulevard at 7:25 p.m., just 25 minutes after he got off the phone with his mother, a driver high on drugs crossed over the center line and struck Phillips' van.

Phillips, 45, died at the scene, just a few hours short of the holiday on which his thoughts were fixed.

"That was the only reason that he was going down Rossville Boulevard," his mother, Elizabeth Wilhoit, said Thursday. "And he got killed going down Rossville Boulevard."

Almost exactly a year later, the tragedy is continually on Wilhoit's mind. Mother's Day is Sunday, and this one, she said, will be tough for more than the fact that she is now battling colon cancer.

The recent grand jury indictment of Christopher James Hinnard, 35, on charges of vehicular homicide in the case and the approaching holiday are fresh reminders that her son -- the man she said was always there for her -- is gone because of something she feels could have been prevented with heavier punishments for a repeat DUI offender.

Hinnard pled guilty three times to driving under the influence in Hamilton County prior to hitting Phillips. Most recently, his 2008 guilty plea led to a fine, two-year license suspension and a prison sentence reduced to 60 days because of good behavior.

"He [Hinnard] goes along his merry way," Wilhoit said. "Even after all of the DUI's he's had, he gets out and then this time he's killed someone. We just don't understand why he kept getting out and getting off."

And Wilhoit is worried that Hinnard, who also has drug charges on his record, may again avoid a harsh penalty for his actions. His first court date is set for May 16 after his arrest Wednesday. The grand jury indictment was handed up Feb. 19.

For the moment, Hinnard is free because he posted bond.

"This guy has gone through DUI's, drug charges, you name it and all he's gotten is a slap on the wrist," said Scott Stansfield, a friend of Phillips who reached out to law enforcement over the past year to check on the status of the investigation.

The two met shortly after Phillips graduated from East Ridge High School and went to work with a rental property company. The two clicked and remained friends.

Phillips had a grown daughter and a young grandson.

"If he had stayed downtown, he wouldn't have been going down Rossville Boulevard and he wouldn't have met Hinnard head on," Wilhoit said. "But he wanted to buy his mom something nice for Mother's Day."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.