Prosecutor Says Brewer Was Driving 80 And Was High On Meth At Time Of Horrific Wreck At Ooltewah Exit; Defense Says There Is No Evidence Of Intoxication

Monday, January 22, 2018
Tina Close testifying at the trial
Tina Close testifying at the trial

A prosecutor on Monday told a Criminal Court jury from Nashville that Benjamin Scott Brewer was driving 80 mph, was high on meth and never hit his brakes when he caused an horrific wreck on June 25, 2015, at the Ooltewah exit of I-75.

Crystle Carrion asked the jury to find Brewer guilty of six counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication, four counts of reckless aggravated assault, DUI and speeding.

However, Erinn O'Leary of the public defender's office said Brewer should be found not guilty of any of the counts. She told the jury repeatedly that there was no evidence that the Kentucky truck driver was intoxicated.

Six people died in the June 25, 2015, crash, including a grandmother, mother and girls 9 and 11 in one vehicle that caught on fire.

Brewer was not initially arrested, but was charged 39 days later. He has been in jail since he was later apprehended.

Prosecutor Crystle Carrion told the jury, "453 feet of carnage - over a football field and a half of destruction and chaos."

She said the smoke-filled freeway was strewn with wreckage and filled with those crying for help and others crying in despair.

Ms. Carrion said Brewer never slowed down, but plowed into a line of cars stalled by a construction project that had two lanes shuttled into one.

She said the 80,000-pound truck first struck a car driven by Bradley County school music director Brian Gallaher, killing him instantly.

It hit the car with the four occupants, sending driver Tiffany Watts flying from the vehicle and leaving the others trapped inside.

The truck impaled a vehicle driving by Dalton State's Jason Ramos, who was also killed instantly.

Ms. Carrion said prior to the crash that Brewer was "barreling down" I-75 switching from lane to lane recklessly. She said he had a vantage point on a hill a mile from the wreck scene to see the stopped cars ahead. She also said he went by several signs warning of the upcoming construction.

She said he had been driving since 4:30 that morning. The crash was at 7:09 p.m. under sunny skies.

Ms. O'Leary said Brewer had dropped off a load of salad dressing in Florida and was on the way back with his fiancee. 

She said he had safely negotiated the heavy traffic around Atlanta before reaching Chattanooga.

Ms. O'Leary said Brewer voluntarily gave written and recorded statements to police. She said he submitted to a blood test. She said he was allowed to go free "as he should have been" when an officer determined there appeared to be nothing intoxicating in his system.

She said he struck his head during the collision and afterward said he could not remember what happened. She quoted him as saying, "I seen brake lights and I couldn't hit the brakes. I couldn't stop."

Tina Close of Signal Mountain told the jury she, husband Travis Close, and their children ages 6 and 12 had started out on a camping trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway when they got caught in the congestion.

She said she turned to look in her rear view mirror and "saw a semi coming behind us in our lane very fast. It was not appearing to slow down. It was in our lane. We did not have anywhere to go."

She said, "I was yelling" but she said the children could not hear her because the daughter was asleep and the son had on headphones. She said, "I was grateful that they did not know what was about to happen."

Ms. Close told the jury, "I thought we were going to be mutilated or killed at the worse. It was not going to end well."

Their vehicle was totaled by the crash, but all four doors were able to open and they all got out. She said she and her husband suffered whiplash and other injuries.

She remembers seeing lots of fires and some explosions.

Ms. Close said the event brought "mental trauma." She said the family last year finally made the Blue Ridge Parkway trip, but she said, "I'm a terrible passenger. I don't do well."

Curtis Caulder, a long-haul driver for four decades, said he was going home to Ooltewah that day on the same route as Brewer.

He said about the Fort Oglethorpe exit he noticed "this big pretty purple Peterbilt" speed past him while driving erratically. He said he sped up to try to get information off the truck so he could notify the owner.

The witness said he followed the Brewer vehicle all the way to the crash scene, saying Brewer was tailgating and speeding the whole way.

He estimated it was going over 80 mph when it struck the line of vehicles.

The witness told of seeing cars catching fire and exploding and of a line of mangled vehicles. He said he tried to help the people in the burning car, but it was too hot to get close.

Bobby Delay of Cleveland, Tn., said he was just getting on the freeway after working a job at Ooltewah when "an 18 wheeler came flying down the road.

He said it could have veered to the right "and not hit any of those people," but it went directly into the line of cars.

He estimated that Brewer was traveling around 70 mph at the time of the crash.

The witness said the woman who was thrown from her car landed directly in front of his vehicle. He said, "I went to ask her if she was okay, but she was already dead."

He said the Ramos vehicle had been squeezed to about half its normal size and the driver was dead hanging partially out of the passenger side.

He told of seeing Brewer get out of his truck, look at the front where the Ramos vehicle was stuck, then climb back into his cab.

Asked how he was dealing with the incident, Mr. Delay said, "It's something that happened. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Trooper Greg Gibson said he was just north of the Ooltewah exit working traffic for the construction when a worker told him there was heavy smoke below. He said he had noticed that the traffic going north had stopped.

He went quickly to the scene and found Brewer's vehicle up against a barrier. He said he placed Brewer into his patrol vehicle, then went into the fray.

He said it was like no other accident scene in his 20-year career, "and I've been involved in some bad wrecks." 

The trooper said the wreckage stretched so far that he could not see the end. He said people were running from a nearby motel carrying fire extinguishers.

"It was overwhelming the stuff I saw," he stated.

He said the speed limit in that section is 65 for cars and 55 for trucks.

 

Curtis Caulder testifying at the trial
Curtis Caulder testifying at the trial

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