A new state law affecting drunk driving cases could apply a new penalty in the case of a fatal Christmas day crash in Bradley County.
The Tennessee law passed last year requires a judge order any person found guilty in fatal DUI cases to pay restitution or child support to any surviving children of the victims.
The law is called Ethan, Hailey and Bentley's Law. Ethan and Hailey refers to the children of the late Chattanooga Police Officer Nicholas Galinger, killed by a drunk driver in 2019.
The law requires a judge to order any person convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide by intoxication pay child support to any surviving children of the victims until the child has reached age 18.
Under this law, Patricke Conley -- the man charged with two counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication following the Bradley County crash -- would be ordered to pay child support to all three of Dustin and Brittany Dillard's young children, should he be found guilty at trial.
On Dec. 25, Conley crashed his 2004 Isuzu Ascender into the Dillards' 2022 Jeep Wagoneer after Conley lost control of his vehicle while traveling on U.S. Highway 64, according to authorities.
Brittany Dillard, 33 -- a Walker Valley High School teacher -- was in the front passenger seat, as husband Dustin Dillard, also 33, was driving. Brittany and Dustin Dillard died as a result of the crash, according to an affidavit from the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Their three children, who were in the back seat, were injured but survived.
Trooper Robert Gibson, who responded to the scene, stated in the affidavit that "numerous Bud Light beer cans" were found scattered around the scene.
Gibson also reported Conley's vehicle had "a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage in the driver's compartment," in the affidavit, adding that responding Bradley County deputy Anna Simmons stated "she could smell a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person" as she was rendering aid to Conley, who was also injured in the crash.
Conley, 42, whose blood alcohol level has not been released, entered a not guilty plea for the vehicular homicide charges as well as three counts of vehicular assault charges during a bond hearing Dec. 29 before Bradley County General Sessions Court Judge Clay Collins.
Conley, who requested a public defender at the hearing and said he would not be able to meet the set bond of $500,000, is due to return to court at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 12 for a status hearing.
Brentwood, Tennessee, attorney Ben Rose -- who has represented the Galinger family and is not involved in the Conley case -- said the bill was designed for these types of cases.
Rose drafted the bill after a jury found 58-year-old Janet Hinds, a former Soddy-Daisy postmaster with no previous criminal history, guilty of vehicular homicide by intoxication in connection with Galinger's death. She was later sentenced to 11 years in prison.
"This law is a tool in the toolbox," Rose said in a Thursday telephone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "It's one aspect, or one additional option that we can use to get folks that have committed these types of crimes to essentially pay restitution to these children that may be destitute without any other compensation."
On Feb. 24, 2019, 38-year-old Galinger was hit by a vehicle driven by Hinds while he was inspecting a manhole on the 2900 block of Hamill Road in Chattanooga, shortly after 11 p.m. Galinger was taken to a local hospital and later died. Hinds left the scene.
During Hinds' 2021 trial, Mike Lytle, the assistant director of the forensic services division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified that he used a method called retrograde extrapolation and estimated Hinds' blood alcohol content at the time of the crash to be between .14-.18%. The legal limit in Georgia and Tennessee is .08%.
Hinds is exempt from paying such restitutions to Galinger's children since the law was passed after her conviction.
Hinds' case is currently being appealed, according to her attorney Ben McGowan, who told the Times Free Press via email Thursday he could not comment on the bill.
Rose said the bill was warmly received when it was presented before the Tennessee General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2022. The bill was signed by Gov. Bill Lee on May 25 and went into effect June 1.
As they continue to mourn, the surviving members of the Dillard family, who have asked for privacy, requested through Maranda Reffner, a spokeswoman with the Bradley County Schools -- who is helping the family with all media communications -- that those interested in making donations for the long-term care and support of Dustin and Brittany Dillard's children mail or drop off donations at the CrossNet Baptist Network c/o Dillard Family 2707 North Ocoee St., Cleveland, TN 37312.
"One of the problems we have, on the criminal side of it, it's amazing to me that you can be intoxicated, kill someone as a result of the intoxication, and the maximum is 12 years incarceration," Rose said. "We ought to have our legislators really think about these issues hard. There ought to be no mercy for somebody (that) goes to a bar, gets loaded and drives and runs over someone. Why is that any different than a violent crime where somebody pulls out a gun and shoots somebody?"
Contact La Shawn Pagán at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476.