TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

March 28, 2014

Two in court for Thanksgiving I-75 crashes


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

A trial for two women facing multiple charges after a string of car crashes on I-75 Thanksgiving weekend in 2012 could be averted.

Angela Ann Vannatter, 42, of Williamsburg, and Elizabeth Marie Jene Paul, 25, of Rockholds, both appeared with their attorneys before Judge Paul Winchester in Whitley Circuit Court Thursday.

Court dockets showed Vannatter was slated for a motion hearing, while Paul was scheduled for a jury trial.

Vannatter is represented by attorney B.J. Foley — Attorney Ron Findell stood in to represent Paul.

Little was discussed during the defendants’ appearance — however, Winchester allowed and then scheduled a pretrial conference for May 27 — by then, each of their cases could be “resolved.”

It is likely each of the women could enter into a plea agreement.

Foley did request a change in Vannatter’s bond — he told Winchester that she had paid and was released on 10 percent of a $10,000 cash bond.

He explained that Vannatter has appeared in court for hearings numerous times and “was not a flight risk.”

Winchester granted that request, changing her bond to a $10,000 surety bond.

No new trial date was set — if both defendants resolve their cases through plea agreements by the May 27 pretrial date, neither woman will face a jury.

In September, the two were slated for a jury trial but their case had moved to November after Paul failed to show for court.

March 4 hearing

During their court appearance in March, testimony was given by Williamsburg Police Capt. Eddie Cain who said that on that day in November 2012, law enforcement officials received several calls about a vehicle “traveling the wrong way on I-75.”

Cain said he began driving toward the interstate in an attempt to locate the driver.

He explained he arrived at the scene moments after the final head-on collision, and added that the momentum of the crash had the vehicles still in motion as he arrived. In that crash, a couple and their infant were injured.

Cain testified he reached through the passenger side of the vehicle, from where Paul had exited, 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 Paul’s 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 floorboard 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 Paul’s car.

He said that Paul “was standing outside the passenger door, running in circles and screaming.”

Cain also testified Paul had “passed out or fell asleep” in the parking lot of the bar where she and Vannatter were earlier that 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 reportedly driving a Dodge Durango — the victims in the head-on collision were in a 2005 Honda Pilot. They were Nathan McGregor, the driver, and Laura McGregor, and their infant child, all of whom were transported to a Corbin hospital for treatment of their injuries.

Paul and Vannatter were indicted in January.

The indictments

Vannatter, the alleged driver, faces five counts in her indictment. The first three counts are all second-degree assault after crashing into a vehicle in which the McGregor family was traveling, causing “serious physical injury” to all three. That crash allegedly occurred while Vannatter was driving under the influence.

Count four of her indictment charges her with first-degree wanton endangerment “when she manifested extreme indifference to human life by wantonly driving a vehicle while under the influence so as to cause substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to Chris Smith.”

The fifth count charges Vannatter with first-degree criminal mischief “by intentionally doing damage to a 2005 Honda Pilot vehicle belonging to (the McGregors) causing damage in excess of $1,000.”

Paul, who was riding with Vannatter, also faces five counts in her indictment.

The first three counts indict her on separate criminal complicity to commit second-degree assault charges when she allegedly “aided and assisted (Vannatter) in operating a motor vehicle” which crashed into the McGregors’ vehicle.

The fourth count also charges Paul with criminal complicity to commit first-degree wanton endangerment after allegedly helping Vannatter “(manifest) extreme indifference to human life by allowing (Vannatter) to wantonly drive a vehicle while under the influence so as to cause substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to Chris Smith.”

The fifth count states Paul was criminally complicit to commit first-degree criminal mischief after “aiding” Vannatter in damaging the McGregors’ vehicle.

Both women were released from the Whitley County Detention Center. According to JailTracker records, Vannatter was released on Feb. 8. Paul was arrested Sept. 14 for failure to appear, and although JailTracker says there is no bond, it also states she was released from the WCDC Sept. 15.