Roger Dale Stewart, 60, 5281 Highway 11-W, Rogers- ville, was initially charged with two counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment following the head-on collision that took place in front of businesses he co-owns with his brother on 11-W on the eastern outskirts of Rogersville.
On Monday, the grand jury indicted Stewart on a charge of reckless vehicular homicide — a Class C felony, related to the death of Thelma Hughes, as well as two counts of felony reckless endangerment and a registration violation. The homicide charge carries a possible penalty of three to six years in prison.
Police said Stewart was driving west on Highway 11-W just east of Rogersville when he crossed over into the eastbound 11-W lane at the Corbin Heights Drive intersection.
Stewart then allegedly began traveling in the wrong direction in the eastbound lane as a shortcut to get into the parking lot of R&R Auto Sales, which he co-owns with his brother.
Police said Stewart traveled 50 to 75 feet past the intersection before causing the head-on collision with an eastbound vehicle driven by Jerry Earl “James” Hughes, 60, of Surgoinsville.
“He (Stewart) stated to me it was something he had done a thousand times before and nothing had ever happened,” Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Scott Alley told the Times-News.
Hughes’ passengers included his mother, Thelma M. Hughes, who was celebrating her 84th birthday that day, as well as an 11-year-old child who wasn’t injured.
Thelma Hughes’ injuries as listed in a lawsuit filed against Stewart and his brother included cervical vertebral body fracture; lumbar spine fractures; left wrist fracture; fractured sternum; multiple rib fractures on both right and left side; and other soft tissue injuries from the cervical spine to the lumbar spine including upper extremities.
She died six weeks after the crash.
Rogersville attorney Bill Phillips, who represents Stewart, told the Times-News Monday that Stewart is innocent.
“Obviously, an indictment is one side of the story and there are two sides to the story,” Phillips said. “An indictment is just what someone goes in and tells the grand jury, and there’s no opportunity to have anyone on the other side give an explanation. The facts in his favor will eventually be told.”
Stewart was originally cited into court on the misdemeanor charges and doesn’t have a bond. He remains free on his own recognizance pending arraignment Friday in Hawkins County Criminal Court.