ROGERSVILLE - A 20-year- old motorist and the two Cherokee High School students he was taking home from school Monday afternoon were badly injured when the car rolled and struck a tree.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Tyler Hall said a 1994 Camaro driven by Thomas Bradley Johnson, 20, of Rogersville, was traveling south on Route 70 shortly after 3 p.m. when he attempted to pass two slower vehicles in his lane.
Witnesses told Hall that as Johnson was attempting the pass there was an oncoming pickup in the northbound lane.
Hall said he later spoke to Johnson, who reportedly said he didn't believe he could complete the pass in light of the oncoming vehicle. But instead of dropping in behind the other vehicles in his lane, Johnson swerved onto the shoulder of the northbound lane.
"The oncoming pickup truck made an evasive move onto the shoulder, and he (Johnson) came back across his lane, overcorrected, and that's when he went back onto the shoulder and made contact with a tree," Hall said. "From what I can tell, the second time he went onto the shoulder he started to roll and the tree caught him in midflight."
Hall said that's Johnson's younger bother, Robert Henry Johnson, 14, who was sitting in the rear seat, was ejected out of the rear window when the Camaro struck the tree.
"He landed almost dead center in the road," Hall said.
The older Johnson brother and his front seat passenger, Justin D. Bailiff, 15, of Rogersville, remained in the vehicle as it landed on its wheels on the edge of the woods facing the roadway. Hall said the two front seat occupants were wearing seatbelts and the younger Johnson brother wasn't.
The Persia Volunteer Fire Department, Hawkins County Rescue Squad, Hawkins County Sheriff's Office and Hawkins County EMS responded to the scene. Route 70 was blocked at the Route 66 intersection to allow three rescue helicopters - two from Wings Air Rescue and one from Lifestar - a place to land in the road.
The three crash victims were flown directly to Holston Valley Medical Center, where Robert Johnson was listed in critical condition Monday night. Thomas Johnson and Bailiff were listed in serious condition.
Hall said Robert Johnson told him a brake failure contributed to the accident. He said he will impound the vehicle to investigate the brakes.
No charges had been filed as of Monday evening.