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State v. Robinson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 19, 2018


          Assigned on Briefs, at Knoxville, November 28, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lawrence County No. 33216 J. Russell Parkes, Judge

         A 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.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and J. Ross Dyer, J., joined.

          Ronald G. Freemon, Columbia, Tennessee, for the appellant, Rebecca Michelle Robinson.

          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 Tennessee.



         I. Facts

         A. Trial

         A 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 proved:[1]

         Alexandria 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.

         Ms. 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.

         Cynthia 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.

         Ms. 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.

         Janice 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.

         Larry 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.

         When 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.

         Officer 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.

         The 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.

         Officer 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.

         Officer 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 ...

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