An 18-year-old from Signal Mountain faces three counts of felony murder after authorities say he used a stolen pickup truck to run three people off the road and to their deaths.
James T. Meeks III is being held in Sequatchie County on related felony charges of theft over $10,000, tampering with evidence and burning personal property in connection with the theft of a Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Meeks is accused of ramming the victims' Jeep from behind on Suck Creek Mountain's Big Fork Road in Marion County. He was arraigned Friday in Marion County Circuit Court on grand jury indictments charging him with three counts of felony murder and attempted murder, 12th Judicial District Assistant District Attorney David McGovern said.
Nicholas Scott Clayton, 20, and Emily F. Clayton, 21, both of Sale Creek, and Chattanooga resident Annie E. Blevins, 24, died about 4:20 a.m. June 4. Driver Eric D. Blevins, 37, was injured in the incident, according to investigators.
"We believe it was intentional," McGovern said, but declined to elaborate.
Meeks has a $75,000 bond set in Marion County, but no bond has been set on the charges in Sequatchie County, where he is being held, officials said.
Public defender Jeff Harmon, whose office is representing Meeks in Sequatchie and Marion counties, said his client pleaded not guilty Friday during the arraignment hearing in Marion. No plea has been entered in the Sequatchie side of case, Harmon said.
McGovern said Meeks will appear for a bond hearing sometime in the next week or so in Marion County Circuit Court.
According to Clayton family members, the four victims had been out late, gathered around a campfire to watch people ride four-wheelers before heading home and encountering Meeks.
Tennessee Highway Patrol officers initially investigating the crash said the Jeep left the road in a curve and overturned. Troopers said from the beginning they believed another vehicle was involved.
Sequatchie County Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock said the damage on the stolen truck connected the vehicle to the crash on Big Fork Road.
The truck was found burned on Miller Cove Road, just inside Sequatchie County and not far the Jeep's crash site, said Sequatchie County Detective Jody Lockhart. The Ford truck was taken from a home on U.S. Highway 127 a few hours before the fatal crash, he said.
Information gathered during the investigation led to Meeks, Lockhart said.
"Once we got the ball rolling, it just all came together in a nice little package," he said.
Once Meeks was identified as a suspect, investigators went to Gordon County, Ga., to interview him, where he was being held on unrelated theft charges. He later was released to Sequatchie County authorities.