ROGERSVILLE — A Rogersville man who crashed his lawn tractor on Route 66 last year, seriously injuring a female friend who was riding in a trailer, was sentenced to three years Friday despite a plea for leniency by the victim.
Wendell Keith Hale, 64, pleaded guilty on Friday in Hawkins County Criminal Court to vehicular assault, violation of the open container law and use of an off-road vehicle on the highway.
Prior to the May 30, 2019, crash, it wasn’t uncommon to see Hale driving his riding lawn mower along a Rogersville street pulling a trailer that contained Marie Marcus.
Shortly after the crash occurred, Hale reportedly told the Rogersville Police Department that the lawn mower’s brakes failed as he descended the hill on Vista Drive toward the Route 66 intersection.
Police said he tried to make a right turn at around 30 mph, which caused the trailer to overturn, throwing Marcus out onto the pavement.
Marcus reportedly landed on the side of her head and was flown via air rescue to Holston Valley Medical Center with what was reported at the time as a “massive head injury.”
Hale subsequently performed poorly on field sobriety tests. The results of a blood test indicated his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.22, nearly three times the legal limit.
In exchange for his guilty pleas on Friday, Hale was sentenced to three years at 30%, fined $400 and his drivers license was revoked for a year.
Marcus, who attended Friday’s plea hearing, was given an opportunity to address the court.
“I don’t want him to go to jail,” Marcus told Judge John Dugger. “I voluntarily got in there when he told me not to. … Then the brakes went out on his mower.”
Dugger: “What were you doing in the trailer?”
Marcus: “I was just going for a ride. … I was moving, and he told me to sit down. I was the one who had the trailer tip over.”
“The state controls the case,” Dugger told Marcus. “I’ll hear your statement, but it won’t change the plea. Even though you’re the victim, the crime is against the state of Tennessee. The state offered this deal to him. He took it as opposed to going to trial.”
Dugger noted that Hale could have been sentenced as a career criminal and received a longer sentence based on his lengthy previous criminal history.
“I respect your position,” Dugger told Marcus. “You tried for him.”