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Driver killed in fatal July wreck was high, very drunk

Chain-reaction accident at Howard Road and Ga. 365 killed 3, injured 6

POSTED: January 4, 2014 12:26 a.m.

The driver at fault in a July 12 wreck that killed three people had a blood-alcohol content of more than triple the legal limit, marijuana and opiates in his system and was driving on a suspended license, according to a highway collision report obtained Friday by The Times.

Gainesville Police Department lead investigator on the case, Larry Sanford, who prepared the report, wrote that standing that night 10 feet from the driver, Raymond McGowan, 36, of Gainesville and his passenger Autumn Holton, 17, of Lula, he “could smell an extremely strong odor of an alcoholic beverage.” Both died in the wreck.

An investigative report shows two baggies of marijuana were found in McGowan’s pocket.

Several days later, Sanford spoke with the mother of the man’s children, who said McGowan had a drug and alcohol problem. A check of his license showed it was suspended for child support obligations.

A blood test performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation showed 0.257 blood alcohol content — 0.08 is the legal limit — and 48 nanograms per milliliter of THC, found in marijuana. Peak concentrations of 100-200 ng/mL are “routinely encountered,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Concentrations generally fall below 5 ng/mL less than three hours after smoking.

McGowan also tested positive for codeine, a pain medication and promethazine, a drug used to treat allergic reactions.

McGowan was heading south on Ga. 365 at about 12:20 a.m. in a tan 2001 Ford F-150 when he turned left at the RaceTrac gas station on Howard Road, in front of a Fieldale Farms Corp. tractor-trailer.

The tractor-trailer, “not having enough time to stop, struck the passenger side of the Ford F-150, killing the driver, Mr. McGowan, and his passenger,” according to the report.

One of the witnesses to the accident said the traffic light was green and the tractor-trailer was going about 55 mph. The witness had changed lanes to pass it.

The driver of the tractor-trailer, David Reed, 49, of Cornelia, at the time of the crash, was on his way from the Fieldale plant in Murrayville to another Fieldale location in Cornelia, a route he said he takes several time a day, according to the report. He began work that day at 6 p.m. and said he usually gets off work at 4 a.m.

He told Sanford he saw a red vehicle to his right, but “the next thing he remembered was being pulled out of his vehicle after the collision,” according to the report. He was taken to the hospital after the incident and had visible facial injuries when Sanford spoke to him.

The pickup and tractor-trailer became entangled, then struck a red 2008 Jeep Wrangler sitting at a yield sign on Howard Road. Those three vehicles came to a rest in the grass in front of the RaceTrac with the tractor-trailer on its side jutting into the northbound lanes of Ga. 365.

The driver of the Wrangler, Beth Hume, 42, of Peachtree City, at the time, said she was on the way to a cabin for the weekend, according to the report. She and the passengers in her vehicle were taken to the hospital. She had a broken eye socket, among other injuries, but the passengers were not seriously injured.

A 911 call came in at 12:20 a.m. from a bystander, who heard the collision from the YMCA across Ga. 365 from the RaceTrac. Other bystanders were trying to help the victims and alert oncoming traffic.

Minutes later, a black 2009 Ford Escape heading north was unable to avoid the tractor-trailer and struck it on the front passenger side of the vehicle, killing the passenger, Robbin Chitwood, 57, of Lula.

The first authorities arrived on scene two minutes after the 911 call. The first medical unit arrived seven minutes after the 911 call.

The woman’s husband, Douglas Chitwood, was driving them home from visiting one of his children in Texas. They had left at 7 a.m. that morning. Robbin Chitwood was reclined, sleeping in the front passenger seat.

Douglas Chitwood said he didn’t see the tractor-trailer on its side, according to the report. He remembers pushing windshield glass off of him and reaching for his phone to call his son.

Sanford concluded lack of roadway lighting “may likely be a contributing factor” to Chitwood not seeing the tractor-trailer.

The intersection has been the scene of several serious accidents, though safety there has improved since the installation of a traffic light late in 2012, Gainesville police statistics show.

A previous version of this article included inaccurate information about who told the investigator that McGowan had previously had an alcohol and drug problem.


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