Judge sets third trial for driver in I-75 wreck that killed six in 2015

Judge sets third trial for driver in I-75 wreck that killed six in 2015

October 18th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Benjamin Brewer, the truck driver who failed to stop his tractor-trailer on Interstate 75 and caused a wreck that killed six people on June 25, appears before Judge Don Poole for arraignment while at the Hamilton County Criminal Court's building in Chattanooga, Tenn., on September 11, 2015.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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After two previous false starts, the vehicular homicide trial of Ben Brewer will go before jurors in Hamilton County Criminal Court beginning Jan. 22.

Jurors will decide if Brewer was intoxicated when he plowed his tractor-trailer into stopped traffic on Interstate 75 on June 25, 2015, killing six and injuring several others, Judge Don Poole said Tuesday. Since attorneys agreed the case had too much exposure in Chattanooga, they will travel to Nashville on Jan. 18 to select a jury.

Brewer, who faces six counts of vehicular homicide, four counts of reckless aggravated assault and one count each of speeding, violation of motor carrier regulations and driving under the influence, was supposed to be tried over the summer and then this fall.

But two issues popped up.

First, his public defenders said they discovered a second drug test prosecutors never turned over showing a different level of methamphetamine in his blood from what another test revealed. Though prosecutors said that information was available in a public federal report, Brewer's defenders said the discrepancies went to the heart of the state's case: Whether Brewer was impaired at the time of the accident.

With an out-of-town jury already primed to hear the case, Poole canceled the June 19 trial date, giving defenders more time to examine the differences in fairness to their client. Poole said prosecutors did not willfully disclose the second test, and defenders worked on getting more information about the differences between this test and the one the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted after the crash.

Before the new date in September, though, defenders reported another obstacle: Government attorneys who were fighting their weeks-long effort to subpoena a federal employee to discuss the different test results.

Per long-standing administrative laws, Brewer's defenders couldn't call a federal employee to testify during trial, government attorneys said. But they could depose the employee under oath beforehand, which is what defenders, government attorneys and state prosecutors agreed to do as soon as possible after a hearing last month in Criminal Court.

They agreed to return Tuesday to check on the case and finalize a new trial date.

"I have called the jury coordinator in Davidson County, who has been very nice," Poole said Tuesday. "He has indicated that the very best date is to select a jury on the 18th and commence a trial on the following Monday on the 22nd. So that's what we're going to do, and I will issue orders to that effort.

"Everything now is ready?"

Everything was ready, the attorneys said.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.