After complaints from the victim's family, a judge revoked a bond set for the accused driver in a fatal hit-and-run crash.
Magistrate Kela Spence set the $10,000 bond for Mitchell Taylor Horton on Saturday, three days after police arrested him for vehicular homicide. He is accused of killing 58-year-old Horace Cribbs in a yard in Chickamauga, Ga., then driving away.
By Tuesday morning, Cribbs' family heard about the bond and called the district attorney's office.
"That's way too low," said Keith Hicks, who remained friends with Cribbs even after his sister and Cribbs got divorced. "With the severity of the charges, it should have been bound over to the superior court, and they should have set the bond, not some magistrate."
Hicks said staff in the district attorney's office told the family last week they would let them know when a judge decided whether Horton would receive a bond.
The bond was revoked Tuesday, after Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson and Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin said members of their staff questioned what happened this weekend. Franklin said Spence "mistakenly or accidentally" granted a bond without telling Cribbs' family or prosecutors.
"We did not know of or participate in any bond hearing," Franklin wrote in an email to the Times Free Press.
He said prosecutors plan to oppose any bond at a future hearing.
Wilson, meanwhile, said Magistrate Jerry Day was in the sheriff's office Tuesday afternoon for hearings with other inmates. Maj. Mike Freeman asked him what happened, Wilson said, and Day rescinded the bond.
Day did not return an email or call seeking comment Tuesday. Spence was out of the office, and she did not return emails to multiple addresses.
Magistrates have the power to set bonds, except when a defendant faces charges of drug trafficking or one of Georgia's "seven deadly sins," such as rape and murder. Vehicular homicide falls under a magistrate's jurisdiction. Still, Hicks and Cribbs' family balked at a bond of $10,000.
Cribbs was trimming weeds in Hicks' front lawn in Chickamauga around 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday when investigators say Horton sped toward him on North Marbletop Road. Horton lost control of the car, according to the Georgia State Patrol. He weaved into the grass, crashed through a fence, bumped over two driveways and ran through Cribbs.
It was cold that day. Hicks stood behind the house, waiting for the heat in his truck to kick in. He thought he heard a neighbor's dog running back and forth over some siding he keeps by the house.
"It sounded like a bunch of metal being crushed," Hicks said.
His mother lives next door, and she asked a family member to check on the noise outside. Hicks' brother-in-law found somebody on the ground.
"There's a man dead in the road," Hicks recalls hearing. "I think it's Horace."
Hicks then ran toward the scene. He didn't see any skidmarks. He doesn't believe Horton tried to brake.
He said Cribbs had an adult daughter and spent his days helping care for his four grandchildren. He worked as a mechanic, as a cook and server at Spencer B's BBQ. He was about to start at the Roper Corp. For fun, Hicks said, Cribbs liked to take the family on trips to Weiss Lake.
After last week's crash, investigators say, Horton drove to an acquaintance's house, covered the car with tarps and blankets and bolted. He didn't alert his friend, the car's owner, even as local TV stations and newspapers reported the fatal hit-and-run. The next night, Chattanooga police arrested him after receiving a tip about his location, according to a Walker County Sheriff's Office news release.
The fact Horton didn't turn himself in after the crash is proof that he might try to run away if he gets out of jail before a trial, Hicks said.
In addition to vehicular homicide, Horton faces charges of hit and run resulting in serious injury or death, striking a fixed object, failing to report an accident with an injury, failure to maintain lane and driving too fast for conditions.
The Walker County Sheriff's Office previously arrested Horton in December for possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana and failure to maintain lane. He also faces charges of drug possession and driving under the influence charges in Hamilton County.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the magistrate who set Horton's bond as Shela Spence. Her name is Kela Spence.