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State v. Key

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 27, 2019


          Session October 16, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Fentress County No. 17-101 Shayne Sexton, Judge

         The Defendant, Johnny David Key, was convicted upon his guilty pleas of vehicular homicide, a Class B felony, and vehicular assault, a Class D felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-213 (vehicular homicide) (2018), 39-13-106 (vehicular assault) (2018). The plea agreement called for Range I sentences of eight and four years, respectively, to be served concurrently, with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court. After a sentencing hearing, the court ordered that the Defendant serve his effective eight-year sentence in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying alternative sentencing. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Harold E. Deaton, Jamestown, Tennessee, for the appellant, Johnny David Key.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Jared Effler, District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr., and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         The transcript of the guilty plea hearing has not been included in the appellate record. However, the record contains exhibits which were filed on the same date as the guilty plea hearing, and which we presume are the hearing's exhibits. These exhibits contain the following information relative to the offenses: The Defendant and the victims, Sarah Phillips and Jeremy Banks, were traveling toward each other on a well-traveled road on June 20, 2016. As the Defendant entered a curve, he veered into the victims' lane. Ms. Phillips attempted to avoid him by going into the opposite lane, but the vans collided. Mr. Banks died from injuries sustained in the wreck, and Ms. Phillips and the Defendant were injured. Photographs of Ms. Phillips's van show extensive front-end damage. A blood alcohol report reflects that the Defendant's blood alcohol content was 0.131 gram percent. Mr. Banks's death certificate reflects that his primary cause of death was traumatic chest injury and that his secondary cause of death was cardiac arrest. The death certificate lists the injury as having occurred in a head-on collision.

         At the sentencing hearing, Michael Beaty, a former employee of the Fentress County Ambulance Service, testified that he responded to the scene of the wreck. He said he noticed a strong odor of bleach coming from the wrecked van, which had a male occupant. He said he and other first responders coughed and had symptoms of irritation to their airways, noses, and eyes from the odor.

         Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Sergeant Joe Walker testified that, as part of the investigation in this case, he interviewed the hospitalized Defendant. Sergeant Walker agreed that the Defendant asked about what happened to the bleach he had been transporting at the time of the wreck. Sergeant Walker said that when he asked the Defendant whether the Defendant had been drinking on the date of the wreck, the Defendant stated he had a Diet Pepsi. Sergeant Walker said that he asked the Defendant about wine, liquor, moonshine, or beer and that the Defendant denied drinking them. Sergeant Walker said that if the Defendant had since admitted drinking four beers on the date of the wreck, this information was inconsistent with what the Defendant told him during the investigation. Sergeant Walker did not recall the date on which he interviewed the Defendant and did not know the extent of the Defendant's injuries. As best Sergeant Walker recalled, the Defendant appeared to understand their conversation. Sergeant Walker agreed he would not have talked with the Defendant if the Defendant had appeared not to understand.

         THP Sergeant John McFarland, a member of the Critical Incident Response Team, testified as an expert in crash reconstruction. Sergeant McFarland said that he determined after his investigation that the Defendant's van failed to stay in its lane and hit a van driven by Sarah Phillips, causing significant damage to both vans.

         Sarah Phillips testified that her then-fiancé, Jeremy Banks, was with her on the date of the wreck. She said he died from the injuries he sustained in the wreck. She said she had some minor injuries, which included deep tissue bruising on her breast bone and neuropathy in both knees. She said that, at the time of the sentencing hearing, her knees remained swollen and hurt. She said she struggled to work to provide for her family. She said her family had been impacted emotionally by the loss of Mr. Banks, who had been like a father to her children.

         Ms. Phillips testified that she and Mr. Banks were on their way to a store on the day of the wreck and that as they approached a curve, a van came around the curve on her side of the road. She said that she went into the opposite lane to try to avoid being hit by the other van but that the other van hit her van's front passenger side, spinning her van sideways and causing the rear of her van to hit a rock wall. She agreed that the road on which the wreck occurred was a major road, that the wreck occurred during daylight hours, and that her vehicle was too damaged to be repaired. She said her van had been worth about $8, 000 and that she had reached a settlement agreement ...

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