Possible 'special treatment' for suspect in fatal Highway 111 crash

Possible 'special treatment' for suspect in fatal Highway 111 crash

Suspect identified as former deputy in deadly Highway 111 crash

August 28th, 2018 by Rosana Hughes in Breaking News
Karma, a 2-year-old bloodhound belonging to Justin Whaley, a STARS member and a paremedic with Hamilton County EMS.

Karma, a 2-year-old bloodhound belonging to Justin Whaley,...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Updated at 8:44 p.m. on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, with more information.

Justin Whaley

Justin Whaley

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The suspect in a fatal crash along Highway 111 in Soddy-Daisy last month appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, just moments after turning himself in, police say.

Justin Whaley, 37, is accused of driving the wrong way in the early morning of July 3, colliding head-on with a vehicle and killing James Brumlow, 36.

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston opposed the hearing in court, saying, "It appears this defendant is receiving special treatment."

But Lee Davis, one of Whaley's defense attorneys, said "there was no special treatment" for his client. "He was treated fairly, as all men and women should be treated, when faced with an accusation made by the government."

Davis said that on Monday night, after the courts closed, Soddy-Daisy police approached a Sessions Court Judge and obtained a bond of $600,000 against Whaley, "a man with no criminal record."

Early that same night, Pinkston told Whaley's other attorney, Gary Gerbitz, that his client needed to immediately turn himself in for booking, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said. But that didn't happen.

Then Tuesday morning, Gerbitz and Davis approached General Sessions Judge Gary Starnes to request a bond reduction. Starnes refused.

Attorney Lee Davis' statement

"There was no special treatment of Justin Whaley. He was treated fairly, as all men and women should be treated, when faced with an accusation made by the government. Justin Whaley has been cooperating in this investigation since this tragic accident occurred on July 3, 2018. He call 911, remained at the scene, and spent hours with police at the scene of the accident. He was not charged with a crime on July 3 or at anytime during the past two months. Last night, after the courts closed, Soddy Daisy Police approached a Sessions Court Judge and obtained a bond of $600,000 against Justin Whaley, a man with no criminal record. Today Gary Gerbitz and I appropriately asked for a review of that bond, a bond that we believed was excessive, as soon as the courthouse opened this morning. Justin Whaley tuned himself in to Hamilton County Deputies today. It is appropriate for lawyers to seek reasonable bond on warrants. All people are presumed innocent under the United States Constitution and that presumption carries through the setting of a bond. A bond is not punishment. It is to be set so that a court is assured that the person will come to court and to safeguard the public. We asked Judge Barry Steelman to review the bond and set a reasonable bond with appropriate conditions of release. That is what happened today."
- Attorney Lee Davis

The two then asked Judge Barry Steelman, who agreed to a 3 p.m. hearing, but on the condition that Whaley turn himself in, according to the district attorney's office.

"It is appropriate for lawyers to seek reasonable bond on warrants," Davis said. "... A bond is not punishment. It is to be set so that a court is assured that the person will come to court and to safeguard the public. We asked Judge Barry Steelman to review the bond and set a reasonable bond with appropriate conditions of release. That is what happened today."

Davis said Whaley did turn himself in on Tuesday, though no jail booking records or court records could be found online as of Tuesday night.

It was not immediately clear why Whaley would be granted a bond reduction possibly before being arrested and booked -- since his arrest couldn't be verified Tuesday night -- and before any court records had been filed.

Soddy-Daisy police Captain Jeff Gann, whose agency investigated the incident and would have conducted the arrest, did not return multiple requests for comment via phone call and text message Tuesday afternoon.

Steelman reduced Whaley's bond to $50,000 from $600,000. He is to surrender his driver's license and will be subject to GPS and alcohol monitoring.

The crash

Emergency dispatchers got a call from Whaley at about 5:40 a.m. on July 3, according to a narrative of the incident. Whaley told dispatchers he had just been in a head-on collision with another vehicle, but he wasn't sure how he himself was driving in the wrong direction.

Whaley told police he had been drinking with a friend the night before, but he'd intentionally stayed at his friend's house to sober up

Investigators determined Whaley was in the lane closest to the wall and then crossed over toward the shoulder and hit Brumlow, who was traveling in the correct direction.

Brumlow's vehicle was found on its side.

A warrant was issued to collect a blood sample from Whaley for a blood-alcohol test.

"Justin Whaley has been cooperating in this investigation since this tragic accident occurred on July 3, 2018," Davis said. "He [called] 911, remained at the scene, and spent hours with police at the scene of the accident. He was not charged with a crime on July 3 or at anytime during the past two months."

But now that the blood-alcohol test results have come in, Whaley faces a slew of charges, including vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and reckless driving.

Whaley became a volunteer reserve deputy for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in March 2016, a sheriff's office spokesman confirmed. He was not a full-time, paid deputy.

He resigned in October 2017 after not being able to fulfill the number of required volunteer hours.

Whaley, owner of Dead Zero Shooting Park, is a former U.S. Marine infantry rifleman and a former paramedic, according to the shooting park's website.

In 2016, he was at the center of a controversial proposal for a commercial firing range on Bakewell Mountain in Soddy-Daisy.

Nearby landowners protested the range, saying it would pose noise, safety and environmental concerns.

The Hamilton County Commission shot down the proposal in an 8-1 vote.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.


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