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Johnson City man pleads guilty to vehicular homicide

DEE GOODIN • Jan 10, 2007 at 11:24 AM

JOHNSON CITY - A 24-year-old Johnson City man faces a possible eight years behind bars after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.

Wesley J. Porter, 24, 471 Cash Hollow Road, was driving his mother's car when he collided with a vehicle driven by James L. Roberts, 54, of Mountain City. Roberts was killed in the accident and his then 4-year-old grandson, D.J. Watson, suffered a fractured skull.

Terry Stevens, of Hampton, owner of an Austin Springs Road automotive shop, witnessed the July 22, 2005, accident.

During Porter's October 2005 preliminary hearing, Stevens testified that on the morning of the collision, he had no room on his lot to park, so he had parked his personal vehicle across the street and walked over to place some parts in his car.

"When I started back from the Suburban, I heard sirens in the distance," Stevens said. "I saw Mr. Roberts coming down the road real slow. I think he was stopped for a second. He started to turn into the road beside the shop. That's when I saw a green car come around the curve pretty fast.

"He was edging closer to the grass on the left side. ... He was barreling down the road, and I heard a smack and parts were flying through the air."

Stevens estimated he was 50 to 75 feet from the crash and had to dodge flying debris.

"I started across the road. ... I saw a flash of skin. Someone was running down the side road."

Stevens said when he got to the Roberts vehicle, he could tell Mr. Roberts "was already gone" but checked both the man's wrist and his neck for a pulse, nonetheless. The man testified Mrs. Roberts was in the car's back seat screaming "Get me out, get me out" fearing that the vehicle would catch on fire.

Stevens said that approximately five to 10 seconds after the accident, a Johnson City Police Department officer pulled up to the crash and asked Stevens, "Which way did he go?" referring to the driver of the green Oldsmobile that struck the Robertses.

He also testified that the green Oldsmobile was on the wrong side of the road, which has double yellow lines indicating a no-passing zone. He added he neither heard brakes applied nor saw any brake lights.

"If he had stayed in his lane, he wouldn't have hit them," Stevens said.

Authorities say Porter fled on foot from the scene on Austin Springs Road, which also seriously injured Roberts' former wife, Kathy Roberts, 51, also of Mountain City, and D.J. Watson's father, Eric Watson, 28, of Butler.

Stevens went on to say that after checking on the Robertses and Watson, he concentrated on 4-year-old D.J., who after a moment began whimpering although not fully conscious. He said he held the boy's head and hands, which were reaching for his injuries, until an emergency official tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Let me in there now."

Trooper Suzanne Masoner, an eight-year veteran with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, testified she was called to investigate the case because a JCPD officer had clocked the "suspect" vehicle on Princeton Road speeding and "had turned around to stop that vehicle."

Porter eluded authorities until stopped by THP officials in Franklin County on Aug. 31.

Masoner said Porter had outstanding warrants the day of the wreck.

Porter will appear again in front of Judge Robert Cupp for a sentencing hearing in April.

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