Hale, of Bluff City, was named in a Wise County magistrate’s warrant taken out Saturday night by competing driver Zeke Shell of Johnson City. Shell accused Hale of throwing a large hammer at his car shortly after the two tangled during a race and Hale’s car wound up kissing the wall.
The warrant formally accuses Hale of throwing a projectile or missile at a moving vehicle, a Class IV felony in Virginia that carries a two- to 10-year prison sentence and a maximum $100,000 fine.
On Tuesday, Lonesome Pine Raceway Manager Clinton Vance said a minor incident spun out of control when Shell took the warrant against Hale.
“It was much ado about nothing,” Vance said. “They basically took a minor situation and blew it totally out of proportion and charged somebody with a pretty major felony. In my opinion, if (Hale) had a lot better aim, maybe he could have hurt Zeke. But he didn’t even come close, really.”
Witnesses, of which there were a slew during the Saturday night races, told Vance that Hale’s hammer toss struck them more as an expression of frustration rather than an intent by Hale to assault Shell.
“They told me it came closer to hitting the pace car than hitting Zeke. Yes, it could have been a potentially dangerous situation and could have caused some harm. But really, in the heat of the moment and with the adrenaline flow, people had real high emotion,” Vance said. “I don’t think (Hale’s) intention was to hurt (Shell) but to say, ‘I’m not real happy with you right now.’ I wish he would have expressed it in a different way.”
Vance said he has been informed that both drivers apologized to each other on Monday, “and I think they really want to (let bygones be bygones and) move on.”
Unfortunately for Hale, in Virginia a warrant cannot be withdrawn by a complainant.
Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ron Elkins said complainants sign a provision on warrants issued to acknowledge that the charges cannot be dismissed except by a court, even if the complainant requests a withdrawal.
Elkins said his staff of prosecutors will assess the matter like any other case when it arrives in his office, “and then we will proceed from there.” He said a prosecutorial recommendation to a judge to drop the matter “is but one option” in a wide range of options. He declined to speculate about a case that has yet to appear in his office.