A roadside memorial to Samantha K. Hathaway, 18, was placed at the Church Hill intersection of 11-W and Silver Lake Road where she was killed in an accident involving an ambulance Saturday night. She worked at the nearby McDonald's. (Ned Jilton photo)
CHURCH HILL — When an ambulance approaches a red light with emergency lights and siren, technically the ambulance is requesting other vehicles to yield to the ambulance.
Legally, however, it is the responsibility of the ambulance driver to make sure the intersection is clear, yielding to all other vehicles, before crossing a red light.
On Monday the Tennessee Highway Patrol continued its investigation into an accident involving a Hawkins County EMS ambulance Saturday night that took the life of 18-year-old Samantha K. Hathaway and injured nine others in Church Hill. As of Monday evening the THP hadn’t released any new information, and charges are still pending.
Witnesses told the Times-News that the ambulance was heading east on Highway 11-W taking a burn victim to the Holston Valley Medical Center when it crossed a red light at the Silver Lake Road intersection around 10:30 p.m.
Hathaway, had just gotten off work at the nearby McDonald’s restaurant where her father is manager.
Driving a 2001 Toyota Corolla, Hathaway was northbound on Silver Lake Road, had just gotten the green light, and was attempting to cross Highway 11-W when the ambulance struck her vehicle on the driver’s side door.
The ambulance then struck two other westbound vehicles which were stopped at the red light waiting to turn left.
The three Hawkins County EMS members were treated and released at HVMC including driver Amanda Carr, 22, of Mooresburg; Kayla Murrell, 22 of Rogersville; and Brenda Joyner, 39, of Chuckey.
There was no information about the occupants of ther two other vehicles, although rescuers at the scene said they didn’t appear to be seriously injured. One vehicle was occupied by an 18-year-old woman from Mount Carmel, and the other by a 34-year-old woman and three children ages 11, 8, and 4 from Church Hill.
At the time of the accident the ambulance was transporting a burn victim from Mooresburg to the HVMC. That burn victim, Randall Ashlea, 35, of Talbot, was transferred from HVMC to a burn center in Augusta, Ga.
Among the responders on the scene was Church Hill firefighter Luke Wood who lives less than a mile from the wreck scene.
Wood said that when he arrived it “looked like a bomb had gone off.”
“The first thing I noticed was the flashing lights from the ambulance and the ambulance laying on its side,” Wood said. “People were screaming. People were standing around in shock. The EMS guys were trying to get enough ambulances in. It was one of those bad situations you try to prepare for but you hope it never happens.”
Wood added, “There were two EMS workers in the back of the ambulance and they were trying to get their patient situated to where they could get him moved. But, there was so much debris inside the ambulance, they were trying to get him dug out. Me and two other EMS workers and another gentleman from the rescue squad finally got him on a board and wheeled him out.”
The Times-News contacted multiple officials from law enforcement and the attorney general’s office about this situation. Due to the fact that the accident remains under investigation, no one was willing to speak on the record about this specific case.
In a case like this, however, experts agreed that the results of a lengthy THP investigation would likely be turned over to the attorney general’s office for disposition.
That evidence will then likely be presented to the Hawkins County Grand Jury to determine what, if any criminal charges will be filed.
If it was determined that an ambulance driver crossed a red light intersection, struck a vehicle, and caused a death, experts said there are multiple charges a Grand Jury can consider.
There is a Class B felony vehicular homicide charge which is not based on impairment or intoxication, but is based on reckless conduct; as well as lesser Class D felony reckless homicide and Class E felony criminally negligent homicide.
Pertaining to the injuries in the accident the grand jury could consider vehicular assault, felony reckless endangerment, or lesser but included misdemeanor charges such as reckless driving, reckless endangerment.