Attorneys want trial for driver in fatal I-75 truck crash moved from Hamilton County

Attorneys want trial for driver in fatal I-75 truck crash moved from Hamilton County

February 7th, 2017 by Steve Johnson in Local Regional News

Benjamin Brewer is brought out of custody to appear before Judge Don Poole for arraignment while at the Hamilton County Criminal Court's building in Chattanooga on Sept. 11, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, Benjamin Scott Brewer, center, appears for his arraignment in Chattanooga, Tenn. Federal investigators said Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, that Brewer failed to slow down in a construction zone, was probably fatigued and had taken methamphetamine to stay awake. Brewer's tractor trailer crashed into multiple vehicles on Interstate 75, killing six and injuring six others on June 25, 2015. (Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The attorney for the driver charged with killing six people when his truck crashed into vehicles stopped for construction work on I-75 filed motions Monday to have the case heard outside Hamilton County because of what he called "inflammatory" local news coverage.

He also asked Sessions Court Judge Donald Poole to ban much of the evidence in the case from the trial because, he said, it was collected illegally.

Kentucky driver Benjamin Brewer is being held at the Hamilton County Jail without bail on six counts of vehicular homicide and four counts of reckless aggravated assault.

Prosecutors claim Brewer had been driving far longer than the legal limit and was under the influence of drugs when his truck plowed into the slowed and stopped traffic on the interstate near exit 11 in Ooltewah shortly after 7 p.m. on June 25, 2015.

On behalf of Brewer, deputy public defender Mike Little filed motions Monday morning asking that the trial be moved and much of the evidence against his client be ruled inadmissible.

Little attached a list of 86 news stories written by local TV stations, the Times Free Press and Chattanoogan.com. Without giving specifics, he said in his motion the stories "contain inflammatory information and information that is inaccurate or otherwise inadmissible at trial." He noted that under Tennessee law, a judge can move a trial to another county, "when a fair trial is unlikely because of undue excitement against the defendant in the county where the offense was committed."

The public defender also asked the court to ban any item seized from the tractor of the Peterbilt truck, including a cellphone, and to throw out evidence from Brewer obtained through sobriety and blood tests.

The attorney argued that law enforcement officials took Brewer into custody at the scene of the crash and illegally locked him in the back seat of a patrol car, but told him he was not being arrested. They detained him for six hours, during which time the truck driver agreed to a blood test and a sobriety test, Little said.

Multiple lawsuits filed by the victims and victims' families have included not just Brewer but his employer, the Cool Runnings trucking company and its owners. Some of them also have included Marten Transportation, a Wisconsin-based provider of refrigerated truck services that subcontracted work to Cool Runnings to provide food for Darden Restaurants, which operates Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.

All told, damages sought by all parties stemming from the 2015 crash total more than $210 million.

Judge Poole set a hearing for March 2 to hear arguments on Little's motions. The trial date is still set for April 4.

Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673, sjohnson@timesfreepress.com, on Twitter, @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, www.face book.com/noogahealth.


This story has been corrected to show that Darden Restaurants does not operate Red Lobster. A previous version of this story said Red Lobster was one of the restaurants Darden operated.