Assigned on Briefs November 4, 2014.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Fayette County No. 11-CR-182 J. Weber McCraw, Judge.
Christine Cane, Memphis, Tennessee (at trial) and Kari I. Weber, Assistant Public Defender, Somerville, Tennessee (at trial and on appeal), for the appellant, Lashay Nicole Scruggs.
Robert E. Cooper, Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Mike Dunavant, District Attorney General; and Matt Hooper, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Alan E. Glenn, J., joined.
ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE.
Factual and Procedural Background
On October 31, 2013, Lashay Nicole Scruggs ("the Defendant") pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide, both C felonies. The facts underlying the convictions, as recited by the State at the entry of the guilty plea, are not in dispute.
At approximately 5:55 p.m. on August 5, 2010, Gary and Eric Turner ("the victims") were driving northbound on Highway 76 in Fayette County. It had been raining "fairly hard" throughout the day, including in the minutes leading up to the accident. The Defendant was driving southbound on the same highway in an AutoZone delivery van when she hydroplaned, lost control of the vehicle, and crossed over the line into oncoming traffic. The Defendant hit the victims' vehicle head-on. Both victims died as a result of the injuries they sustained in the accident.
The AutoZone van was equipped with a crash data recorder, commonly referred to as a "black box, " which records and stores data about the vehicle for the five seconds prior to impact. State troopers who responded to the scene secured the black box. When the data was evaluated, it showed that the van had been traveling at 82 miles per hour in the five seconds before the accident.
Witnesses at the scene did not observe the Defendant to appear to be intoxicated. However, the Defendant's blood was drawn, and it tested positive for a small amount of marijuana. Given the amount of marijuana found in the Defendant's system, the State conceded that it would be difficult to prove that she was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Consequently, the Defendant was indicted for vehicular homicide by recklessness as opposed to vehicular homicide by intoxication.
The State announced that the parties did not have an agreement as to sentencing and would submit sentencing to the trial court's discretion. The Defendant stipulated as to the factual basis and informed the court that she would be seeking judicial diversion and alternative sentencing. She then entered guilty pleas to both counts of vehicular homicide.
At the sentencing hearing on December 5, 2013, Arbedella Pettigrew testified that Gary Turner was her brother and Eric Turner was her son. She stated that, when the accident occurred, the victims were returning home after having helped an individual load chairs onto the back of his truck. She testified that she has to pass the scene of the accident every day and it is very difficult for her. She stated that she wanted the Defendant to be incarcerated.
The Defendant testified that she was currently 24 years old and was 21 years old at the time of the incident. On the day of the accident, the Defendant was coming to the end of a 12-hour shift driving a delivery van for AutoZone. She stated that she was driving normally but not paying attention to her speed when she hydroplaned and collided with the victims' car. After the accident, she was told that the treads on the van's tires were low, but she did not know that information at the time of the incident. She said that she could not control what happened and she felt that she should not be punished for something she could not control. She testified, "I'm not saying that I wasn't wrong for speeding, but at the same time I have to ...