Former Hamilton County reserve deputy sentenced to 9 years in vehicular homicide case

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Justin Whaley listens to opening statements during the first day of his trial at the Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Justin Whaley listens to opening statements during the first day of his trial at the Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

A former Hamilton County paramedic and volunteer Sheriff's Office reserve deputy was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison for a 2018 wrong-way crash that killed a man.

Justin Whaley, 42, hit and killed James Brumlow in July 2018 on Highway 111. He was found guilty in October of seven of the eight charges against him, including reckless vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.

Whaley was tasting different bourbons at his friend's house the night before the crash. He slept for a few hours before driving home early the following morning. He missed his exit, turned around on the highway and hit Brumlow, 36, who was on his way to work.

Ryan Brumlow's last memory of his father, James Brumlow, is of him saying goodnight while doing a King Julien impression from "Madagascar," he said during his victim impact testimony.

"The very next time I saw my father I couldn't even recognize his face," Ryan Brumlow said. "I have a hard time finding happiness."

Whaley saw the consequences of drunk driving firsthand throughout his emergency medical services career, but he chose to do it himself anyways, Andrew Anderson, also a son of Brumlow, said in court.

"I don't care that you served in the military," Anderson said. "I don't care that you worked for the Sheriff's Office or EMS."

Ryan Brumlow and Anderson asked Whaley not to apologize to their family, saying it would be meaningless after five years.

(READ MORE: Second driver still under investigation in Frazier Avenue crash)

When Whaley took the stand to address Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson, he acknowledged the family asked him not to apologize. He then turned to the row where Brumlow's family was seated and apologized through sobs. One son left the courtroom while Whaley spoke.

"I've spent the last five years thinking about how I can atone," Whaley said.

Whaley's wife, Heather Whaley, said her husband is devastated by the result of his actions and that he regularly wishes he had died in the place of Brumlow.

"It's really taken an immeasurable toll on our marriage," she said.

(READ MORE: New Tennessee law requires drunk drivers found guilty of vehicular homicide to pay child support)

Patterson addressed previous allegations of Whaley receiving "special treatment" because of his status in the community and some of the impartiality concerns raised by both parties during the yearslong case.

"I'm going to do something I've never done before," Patterson said, as he showed the courtroom sentencing guideline documents on a projector.

He walked Brumlow's and Whaley's families through the legal analysis behind his sentencing determination.

"The law is being followed in this case," Patterson said. "I made every effort to be overtly fair."

Attorney Lee Davis, who is representing Whaley, said the defense is planning on filing a motion for a new trial. He asked that Whaley be allowed out on bond during the appeals process, but Patterson denied his request.

Whaley will be held in jail until his next hearing date. He has been in custody since October. He will be eligible for parole after serving about three years of his nine-year sentence.

Contact Sofia Saric at ssaric@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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