Smokey and the Bandit was one of my favorite movies as a kid.
Who didn’t love watching The Bandit behind the wheel of that slick Trans Am getting the best of Sheriff Buford T. Justice in an exciting high speed pursuit.
The same goes for The Dukes of Hazzard with the Duke Boys jumping a washed out bridge in the General Lee and crossing the county line out of reach of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.
But if you’ve ever seen a high speed pursuit in person, it’s not quite as entertaining. Especially when some idiot flies past you at 100 mph followed by a half dozen patrol cars with flashing lights and sirens.
It’s happened to me twice over the years, and I’m here to tell you, it happened so fast it was over before my brain was able to process what was going on. There’s almost no time to react.
God forbid you meet a high speed chase head-on like the guy who went the wrong way for about two miles on 11-W in Church Hill last month before crashing into the Holliston Mill plant. It’s a miracle he didn’t kill somebody or himself.
Hawkins County is experiencing a meth epidemic that by far exceeds anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Unfortunately we’re also experiencing a high speed chase epidemic, and a lot of times the two are connected.
Every week or two there’s another high speed chase in Hawkins County. It was inevitable that somebody would be killed, which is what happened Friday evening.
A driver fleeing the sheriff’s office lost control of his vehicle in a curve on N. Central Avenue in Church Hill, crossed into oncoming traffic, and struck another vehicle. The suspect driver was killed and the driver of the oncoming vehicle was injured.
I don’t know the solution to this epidemic of high speed chases. A good place to start might be more serious consequences for fleeing traffic stops in a vehicle and putting innocent lives, including police officers, in danger.
Felony evading arrest is a Class E felony, which is the lowest felony in Tennessee’s law books, punishable by 1-2 years.
A few years back a defendant in Hawkins County Criminal Court would usually get one year for felony evading arrest with a 30 percent release eligibility, which meant he or she served about three months behind bars and spent the rest of that year on probation.
Lately, especially since the pandemic hit, a felony evading arrest guilty plea has resulted in no jail time and a year of supervised probation.
Either that or the felony evading sentence is to be served concurrent with any other charges the defendant pleads guilty to that day, which means the defendant basically gets the dangerous high speed chase for free.
So what’s the deterrent for mashing the gas pedal when the blue lights come on behind you. The answer is: None.
If you get away — a few more days of freedom. If you get caught, you were going to jail anyways. It was worth a shot because you don’t serve an extra day in jail for running.
You’re probably never going to stop certain people from running from the law, especially if they’ve got a kilo of meth in their vehicle.
But one step the Tennessee General Assembly should consider is bumping felony evading arrest up to a Class D felony. That’s 2-4 years if convicted, which in Hawkins County generally results in a sentence of two years and one day. With 30 percent release eligibility, that’s about seven months in jail, and the rest on probation.
The General Assembly also needs to make felony evading arrest a mandatory consecutive sentence to any other charges the defendant acquires.
With consecutive sentences, no matter what sentence the other charges get them, they’ll get an extra year added because they fled. (Or an two extra years if the General Assembly bumps it up to a Class D felony.)
If you doubt that this is a serious problem in Hawkins County, just look at a dozen headlines I’ve written since coming to work for the Rogersville Review in August.
(The date is when the article ran online, not the day of the incident)
Aug. 24: ”Like the day after a snow storm”: Kilo of meth tossed during high speed chase covered bridge
Aug. 24: Two charged after high speed motorcycle chase, crash, stolen Harley recovered
Sept. 7: Pursuit that reached 135 mph on 11-W ended after motorcycle quit running
Sept. 12: Half-kilo of meth seized from biker who fled Mount Carmel traffic stop
Oct. 14: Three county pursuit ended after driver wanted on numerous charges ran out of gas
Nov. 11: Church Hill high speed chase suspect nabbed six weeks later at home in Rogersville
Nov. 15: Kingsport man arrested following pursuit in stolen car that ended in crash
Dec. 9: 100 mph motorcycle pursuit (police blotter headline)
Dec. 16: Suspect drove through factory gate in stolen truck during pursuit, swam across Holston River
Dec. 30: Driver wanted for probation violation flees HCSO ‘motorist assist’ with wanted cousin
Jan. 4: High speed chase in Mooresburg results in assault, drug, and felony evading charges
Jan. 7: High speed chase through Stanley, Carters valleys puts stalker on probation back in jail
Unlucky 13 was the tragic headline on today’s front page.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see that we’re trending toward more high speed chase injuries and fatalities in the future.