A Lumpkin County grand jury this week declined to return a vehicular homicide indictment against a Georgia State Patrol trooper involved in an accident that killed a motorcyclist.
A "no bill" was returned in the case of Trooper 1st Class John Shannon Carroll, meaning the grand jury did not think the evidence warranted a misdemeanor charge of second-degree homicide by vehicle, Lumpkin County District Attorney Stan Gunter said.
According to an official accident report, on Oct. 5, 2008, Carroll pulled his patrol car into the path of motorcyclist Donald Teague when the trooper executed a U-turn to pursue another motorcycle that was speeding along Ga. 11 near the Union County line.
Teague, 57, died after his Harley-Davidson Low Rider collided with the passenger-side door of Carroll’s patrol car.
The grand jury spent about an hour Monday hearing from a Georgia State Patrol trooper that investigated the crash, Gunter said. The grand jury also heard the conclusions of a report of more than 200 pages that was compiled by the state patrol’s Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team.
"We presented the full case," Gunter said.
The report concluded that "there was intoxication on the part of the victim that may have slowed his reaction," Gunter said. He said some of the intoxication was due to prescribed medication, but that Teague also had a blood-alcohol content significantly higher than the 0.08 percent threshold for driving in Georgia.
Gunter said when a police officer is performing his duties, he still has the obligation to not place others in danger.
"In this case it was apparent that Trooper Carroll just did not see Mr. Teague," Gunter said.
The initial accident report cited "failure to yield" as a contributing factor in the crash.
Gunter said the case was presented to the grand jury as a possible case of misdemeanor vehicular homicide, but they also were told of the option of charging him with felony vehicular homicide.
As a law enforcement officer who was on the job at the time of the accident, Carroll was allowed to sit in on the grand jury meeting, which was not open to the public.
Gunter said the grand jury "asked a lot of tough questions" of the troopers involved in the investigation. "They didn’t pull any punches, even though Trooper Carroll was in the room."
The two troopers listed as witnesses on the proposed indictment work out of the same Cumming State Patrol post where Carroll worked at the time of the accident. Two motorcyclists who were riding behind Teague and saw the crash were not asked to testify to the grand jury, though their statements were read to the panel, Gunter said.
Gunter called the case "one of the most difficult kinds of cases we deal with."
"I take these cases to a grand jury because I’d rather have 23 minds looking at it than just myself and my staff," he said.
Gunter said he had no opinion on the grand jury’s decision not to prosecute Carroll.
"It’s their decision; I just make the presentation," Gunter said.
The prosecutor said "under the circumstances, it’s tragic for Mr. Teague and his family, but also a tragedy for Trooper Carroll. He’s taken it hard."
Carroll, who was on administrative leave with pay for two days following the accident, returned to duty at the Cumming post soon after. Earlier this year, he was transferred to the patrol’s capitol police unit in Atlanta, though the job change was unrelated to the accident, State Patrol Spokesman Gordy Wright said.
Gus McDonald, an attorney representing Carroll, said the accident "will never leave the thoughts of Trooper Carroll."
"The decision by the grand jury is not viewed as a victory or vindication," McDonald said. "This was a tragedy for both families, not a criminal act. The family of Donald Teague continues to remain in the thoughts and prayers of Trooper Carroll."
Teague’s two surviving children have hired a lawyer who said he plans to file suit soon against the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
Gainesville attorney W. Newton Moore said his clients were not surprised with the grand jury’s decision.
"We assumed there would be no penalty, nevertheless we have every reason to believe that Trooper Carroll is aware of his mistakes and is remorseful about the tragic consequences," Moore said.
Moore disputed the contention that Teague was intoxicated at the time of the wreck and questioned the accuracy of a blood alcohol content test done at Teague’s autopsy.
"Mr. Teague was in no way impaired in the operation of his vehicle, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the sudden, unexpected actions of Trooper Carroll which caused his death," Moore said, adding that his clients "wish Trooper Carroll no ill will in this matter."
Moore said the suit would be filed soon in Lumpkin County Superior Court.