The accident occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday when an SUV driven by Randall Baker, 52, of Evington, Va., veered off of River Road, rolled over at least one time, and landed on its wheels in the river in about three feet of water. The accident happened just north of the Carters Valley Road intersection on the Hawkins County side of the North Fork.
Rescuers at the scene said Baker indicated he was on his way home from church when the accident occurred.
Police aren’t disputing that claim, but they are alleging that Baker was intoxicated.
Officer Ken Lunsford with the Mount Carmel Police Department said he spoke to Baker at the hospital shortly after the accident occurred. Lunsford said Baker smelled strongly of alcohol and appeared “more than a little buzzed.”
After the wrecker service pulled Baker’s vehicle from the river, Lunsford searched the interior and allegedly found three empty beer bottles and three full beer bottles inside.
Despite having been halfway submerged in the river for about an hour, the interior of the vehicle still smelled of alcohol, Lunsford said.
Baker submitted to a blood test, which has been sent away for a toxicology screening for alcohol and drugs.
“He just said he was lost and somebody told him to go this way and go straight — and he did — straight in the river,” Lunsford said. “He was more than buzzed. From my observation, he seemed to be pretty inebriated.”
Lunsford added, “There is a strong possibility that if that vehicle hadn’t landed on its wheels, he would have drowned. If it landed on the roof it wouldn’t have sunk right away. It would have floated down the river a ways (before sinking). It wouldn’t have been pretty. He’s a lucky man.”