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Pennington Gap teen guilty of manslaughter in fatal wreck, sentenced to 30-days detention

WALTER LITTRELL • Feb 22, 2007 at 9:03 AM

JONESVILLE - A 17-year-old Pennington Gap male was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in Lee County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and was sentenced to 30 days in detention. He has appealed the case to circuit court.

The teen was charged after an Oct. 11, 2006, crash on Route 621 that claimed the life of Connie Jean Blanken. 63. Police said the teen was driving his 1993 Mitsubishi westbound on Route 621, about 2.2 miles west of Route 421 in Left Poor Valley, when he came around a curve, lost control of his vehicle, and struck a 1996 Chevrolet Corsica being driven by Blanken. The crash spun both vehicles off the road to their right and over embankments. Police said neither driver was wearing a seat belt, and Blanken was pronounced dead at the scene.

During a January hearing, two other juveniles testified that they were traveling in the same direction as the teen when he came up behind them at a high rate of speed and passed their vehicle on a double solid line in a short straightaway that ended with a sharp curve. The roadway was wet, and the teen lost control of his vehicle in the curve before he struck the Blanken vehicle in its lane of travel.

The juvenile was charged with involuntary manslaughter, operating a vehicle without a license, no seat belt, and improper passing.

In January he pleaded guilty to improper passing and was found not guilty of the seat belt violation. He complied with law on the no license charge.

Defense attorney Tim McAfee entered a motion to strike the manslaughter charge, arguing that it amounted to double jeopardy as improper passing was a lesser included charge of the manslaughter offense.

Judge Susie Baker Cox took the matter under advisement and instructed both sides to argue their cases further in written briefs. She scheduled the ruling for Tuesday.

The judge closed that hearing and at the conclusion she ruled there was sufficient evidence to find the teen guilty and that double jeopardy does not apply in the case. She then pronounced the juvenile guilty of manslaughter and improper passing.

Cox sentenced the juvenile to 30 days in detention and suspended a sentence to the Department of Juvenile Justice. The judge also suspended his operator's license indefinitely and placed him on an indefinite period of supervised probation. She also ordered that he serve 500 hours of community service and fined him $250 for the improper passing charge.

The teen then filed an appeal on the manslaughter conviction, but not on the traffic charge.

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