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Tribal death results in prison sentence, family not satisfied

The man who killed a 42-year-old Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian tribal member in a 2015 head-on collision was sentenced last month in Asheville's U.S. District Court.

The driver entered his plea of guilty to the federal felony charge of involuntary manslaughter last May. The judge gave him a 54-month prison sentence, with two years of supervised release. He also must pay restitution of $1.5 million to his victim's surviving family members.

After the sentence was handed down, the victim's mother announced that she was "thoroughly disappointed...in the Cherokee Indian Police investigation and the fact that they didn't have blood drawn and then sent to a crime lab."

She also stated that it was her opinion that the driver's sentence would have been "much more severe" had there been a blood analysis. She alleged that she contacted the CIP the same day that the fatal wreck occurred and urged them to involve the North Carolina Highway Patrol. However, according to the victim's mother, she was told that would not happen and that the CIP claimed they "were capable of doing the investigation themselves."

Court documents indicated that the driver told a girlfriend he was headed to the Waffle House in the early morning hours on the day of the accident. The girlfriend testified the two had split a beer around 2 a.m.

Initial lab reports showed the driver tested positive for benzodiazepines, popular tranquilizers that include Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. However, no secondary confirmation was ever done, which is necessary for forensic purposes.

A first responder with Cherokee Tribal EMS provided a written statement. He said that he observed a "white male with . . . no shoes, and slurred speech."

Another first responder claimed that the driver admitted taking Xanax at around 10 p.m. the night before the fatal accident. His co-worker testified that the driver reported daily use of Xanax and oxycodone.

Cases like this illustrate why it is so important to make sure that all procedures are correctly followed when there is an accident with serious injuries or fatalities. Families who feel that the criminal justice system failed them can turn to the civil courts in their pursuit of justice.

Source: Cherokee One Feather, "Tomes sentenced to 54 months in Allison fatal crash," Scott Mickie B.P., Feb. 01, 2017

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