Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs, at Knoxville, November 28, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Lawrence County No. 33216 J.
Russell Parkes, Judge
Lawrence County jury convicted the Defendant, Rebecca
Michelle Robinson, of vehicular homicide by intoxication,
reckless endangerment, and failure to exercise due care while
operating a motor vehicle. The trial court sentenced her to
an effective sentence of eight years of incarceration. On
appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred
when it denied her an alternative sentence and ordered that
she serve her sentence in confinement. After review, we
affirm the trial court's judgments.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit
W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and J. Ross Dyer, J., joined.
G. Freemon, Columbia, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rebecca
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth
Anne Thompson, Assistant Attorney General; Brent A. Cooper,
District Attorney General; and Gary M. Howell, Assistant
District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of
W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE.
Lawrence County grand jury indicted the Defendant for
vehicular homicide, driving under the influence
("DUI"), reckless endangerment, and failure to
exercise due care while operating a motor vehicle. At trial,
the proof viewed in the light most favorable to the State
Niedergeses was in Sunday school with her mother and brother
on Sunday morning, December 7, 2014. She described the
roadway near the church, saying that it had two lanes
traveling in each direction and also a turning lane, for a
total of five lanes. Near the end of Sunday school, Ms.
Niedergeses learned that there had been a "really
bad" accident. Church members came into her Sunday
school class to get her mother and brother, who were both
nurses, to come and render assistance. When Ms. Niedergeses
went to see what had happened, she saw that a vehicle was
across the road crashed into another building. Her mother and
brother went to render aide to the vehicle's occupant,
Danny Pennington, who was also a church member.
Niedergeses saw that a truck had crashed into a van on the
parsonage side of the church, and she heard people say that
there were children in the vehicle. Ms. Niedergeses went to
the truck where she saw three young girls and their mother,
whom she later identified as the Defendant, all outside the
vehicle. The children were not wearing shoes despite the cold
temperature. Ms. Niedergeses and another lady from the church
brought the Defendant and her daughters back to the church to
stand inside. The girls were "very upset" and one,
who had a "really large knot" on the top of her
head, seemed disoriented. The Defendant left her daughters in
the room with Ms. Niedergeses saying she had to go back and
get her purse from the truck. The Defendant returned
approximately five to ten minutes later. When the Defendant
returned, she went to the restroom for some period of time.
Pusser was also at the church the morning of the accident.
She said that she arrived shortly after the accident. She
heard a young girl say "Ms. Cynthia, " and she
recognized the three young girls who had been in the truck as
students at the school where she was a teacher. She attempted
to make the girls comfortable, noting that she did not see
their mother, the Defendant, at the time. When the Defendant
arrived, she appeared "shaken" and sat on the side
of the table opposite Ms. Pusser and the three girls.
Pusser recounted that the children told Officer Larry Glass,
who responded to this accident scene, that they were not
wearing seatbelts when the accident occurred. The children
were taken to an ambulance, and the children's
grandmother arrived and waited for them to be released. Ms.
Pusser said that the Defendant never asked about the
occupants of the other vehicle involved in the accident.
Wade was in Sunday school at her church when she heard a loud
noise outside. When someone informed her that there had been
a car accident, she went into the room where the children
were located. Ms. Wade noted that the Defendant was in the
bathroom when Officer Glass arrived. Officer Glass knocked on
the bathroom door and told the Defendant that she needed to
come out. The Defendant exited the restroom carrying a large
canvas-like tote. Officer Glass asked the Defendant for her
driver's license and insurance, and the Defendant told
him that her license was suspended. Ms. Wade opined that the
Defendant did not appear concerned about the children,
explaining that the Defendant said that she had been in the
bathroom checking on her own bruises and shin and did not ask
about the children.
Glass, an officer with the Loretto Police Department,
responded to the call about this car accident, and he arrived
at the scene at 9:49 a.m. He saw that one vehicle had struck
the Family Care Clinic in Loretto, and noted that a bystander
was performing CPR on the driver, Mr. Pennington, when the
officer arrived. Officer Glass opined that Mr. Pennington was
in critical condition and called for an ambulance. Officer
Glass said that there was a second vehicle, a maroon
Chevrolet Silverado 1500, crashed across the highway. The
vehicle was unoccupied, and Officer Glass was summoned to the
church where the driver and her children were located.
Officer Glass entered the church, he saw the three children
in a classroom with women from the church. He learned that
the Defendant was in the bathroom, so he knocked on the door
and asked her to come out. He spoke with the Defendant, who
told him that the accident occurred because her three
children were "acting up" while she was driving, so
she had turned around to talk to them. When she turned back,
she saw a vehicle in front of her. She applied her brakes but
could not stop her vehicle.
Glass noted that the Defendant was unable to recollect where
the children were located in the truck at the time of the
accident and that her daughter had to tell him that
information. The Defendant told him that the children were
buckled in, but her daughters contradicted that statement.
The Defendant then said to the children "you mean you
weren't buckled up?" Officer Glass noted that there
were not child safety or booster seats in the truck, and he
later determined that the children were ages 4, 7 and 9,
respectively. State law required that the four-year-old be
restrained in a child safety seat.
Defendant produced her driver's license, which was
expired. The Defendant told him that she did not have
insurance and that the vehicle belonged to her mother who was
buying it. The tags on the vehicle were expired.
Glass walked the Defendant to an ambulance where she was
asked to submit to a blood alcohol test, which she agreed to
do. The EMTs drew her blood and Officer Glass locked it,
sealed, in his car until he turned it into the city recorder,
who mailed the sample to the Tennessee Bureau of
Investigations ("TBI") for testing.
Glass noted and marked the point of impact, under which there
were gouge marks in the asphalt. Officer Glass learned that
Mr. Pennington had died of his injuries. Officer Glass said
he found no signs of illegal activity in the vehicle. He also
did not offer the ...