By John L. Ross
Two Whitley County women who faced several charges after a string of car crashes on I-75 Thanksgiving weekend made their appearance in Whitley County District Court.
The last of those crashes was head-on with a vehicle carrying a couple and their infant child.
Angela A. Vannatter, 41, of Williamsburg, and Elizabeth Paul, 24, of Rockholds, appeared before Judge Fred White Monday.
Paul was there for one charge of leaving the scene of an accident and failing to render aid or assistance.
Vannatter also faced the same charge, as well as DUI.
Paul’s case was dismissed and she left the courtroom.
Vannatter’s leaving the scene charge was discussed, but it was unclear whether her charge was dismissed. She returned to her seat in the gallery.
Later during court proceedings, Vannatter was called back to answer for her DUI charge, and she sat with her defense attorney, B.J. Foley.
The first witness called to the stand by Assistant Whitley County Attorney Gary Brittain was Williamsburg Police Captain Eddie Cain.
Before he was questioned, a second witness, Officer Brandon White, was asked to step out of the courtroom.
Cain testified that law enforcement were receiving several calls about a vehicle “traveling the wrong way on I-75.”
Cain said he began driving toward the interstate in the attempt to local the driver.
He explained he arrived at the scene moments after the head-on collision, and added that the momentum of the crash had the vehicles still in motion as he arrived.
He testified he reached through the passenger side, as Paul had exited the vehicle, and put the vehicle in park and turned off the ignition.
It was also learned that the vehicle was registered to Paul.
Cain testified that after seeing to the first set of victims, he went to the Paul vehicle. He said in court that Vannatter was “in the driver seat.”
He was asked how he knew Vannatter was intoxicated. Cain testified that besides having “caused all those accidents,” Vannatter was driving on the wrong side of the road.
“There was a strong smell of alcohol,” Cain said, adding that he saw empty and full containers of alcohol in the floorboards of the vehicle.
He also testified that Vannatter refused to submit to a blood alcohol test and said she wasn’t driving the vehicle.
It was learned the two women were at a bar in Corbin, and that Paul was asleep in the passenger seat.
Foley then questioned Cain, asking about his arrival time at the scene of the final crash. “(I) witnessed the aftermath — (the vehicle) was coming to rest when I arrived,” Cain said.
He clarified the vehicle he saw moving was the car that got hit — it was in the median. The vehicle Vannatter is alleged to have driven came to rest pointing south in the northbound lane, Cain said.
He further testified he stopped his patrol car in front of the Paul’s car.
He said that Paul “was standing outside the passenger door, running in circles and screaming.”
Cain also testified that Paul had “passed out or fell asleep” in the parking lot of the bar she and Vannatter were earlier in the night.
She told Cain she woke up when the crash occurred. “She didn’t say which accident — there were five of them,” Cain said.
He was asked whether any photographic evidence was taken of the crash or of the alcohol purported to be in the Paul/Vannatter vehicle. Cain said pictures were taken of the crash.
But when asked whether Vannatter was given any field sobriety tests, Cain had to say “no.”
He explained that there were “hostile drivers upset that they’d (Vannatter and Paul) caused all those accidents.”
Vannatter was allegedly driving a Dodge Durango — the victims in the head-on collision were in a 205 Honda Pilot. They were Nathan McGregor, the driver, and Laura McGregor, and their infant child, all of whom were transported to Baptist Regional Medical Center for treatment for their injuries.
The next witness to take the stand Monday was Officer White.
White testified he was in communication with Captain Cain, adding he was hearing the calls from dispatch about the wrecks that occurred along I-75.
He was coming to the scene from Three Points, and arrived after Cain was at the crash site, according to his testimony.
He said he saw “accidents, and vehicles stopped. As I got closer to (Exit) 11, he (saw) a vehicle.”
It was the head-on crash. He testified that when he approached the vehicle, you “couldn’t use the driver door,” adding that Vannatter “was in the passenger side sitting with her legs hanging outside.”
He was asked if he had performed field sobriety tests on Vannatter, and he said he had not.
Foley then made a motion to dismiss the case, based on the fact the officers “contradicted” themselves. “They don’t know who was driving,” Foley said.
However, Brittain said that Cain and White had arrived to the crash site at different times, so their testimony would of course be different.
He added that Paul had said Vannatter was driving as well, saying there was “significant evidence” to show Vannatter was operating the vehicle.
Foley said he wanted to “review the 911 tape” and said there was an “interest in listening to this.”
Judge White denied Foley’s motion, and set a trial date for June 5.
By John L. Ross