On a rainy Saturday night, two cars crashed and five families were forever changed. Two teenagers died, two others were critically injured. A Georgia state trooper was fired.
This week, that former trooper went before a grand jury, which was investigating why he was driving 91 mph on a dark highway in Carroll County seconds before his car collided with that of the teenagers. Anthony Scott made use of a privilege that Georgia extends to law enforcement officers: the officer may choose to make a statement to a grand jury that is deciding whether to indict him for a crime. The statement comes at the end of the proceeding, and no one may challenge it or cross-examine the officer.
Scott took advantage of that privilege and was the concluding witness before the grand jury, District Attorney Pete Skandalakis said.
“There are no winners here,” Scott’s attorney, Max Pilgrim, said. “This has been harder on him than anything he ever did in the Marine Corps.” Scott saw combat during four years in the Marines.
The families of the victims, however, believe Scott got off too easy.
“The officer chose to speed. The officer chose to do this,” Lena Wall, whose nephew was badly injured in the crash, said Thursday. “And his choice killed two people.”
Wall’s family members are among those who plan to protest at the Carroll County Courthouse today.
Scott had been driving northbound on U.S. 27 at 91 mph five seconds before the 11:30 p.m. crash at a Carroll County intersection. He had slowed to 68 mph — still faster than the posted 55 mph speed limit — when he struck a 2005 Nissan Sentra attempting a left turn onto Holly Springs Road.
Kylie Hope Lindsey, 17, and Isabella Alise Chinchilla, 16, who were in the Nissan’s back seat, died from their injuries. Both attended South Paulding High School. Dillon Lewis Wall, 18, who was driving the Nissan, and front-seat passenger Benjamin Alan Finken, 17, both of Douglasville, were critically injured and taken to Grady Memorial Hospital.
Dillon, 18, is still recovering from a brain injury, paralysis on the side of his face, hearing loss and broken teeth from the crash. But Wall says it’s his heart that aches the most.
Two of his friends, including the pretty blonde girl he was crazy about, died the night of the crash. Wall’s truck wasn’t working, so he was driving his friend’s car after a trip to McDonald’s. The four friends were headed to another friend’s home at the time of the crash. Wall feels guilty that he survived and two others did not, his family said.
The intersection had been the site of 10 crashes since 2012, Skandalakis said. There’s no traffic light at the intersection and the grass was more than 2 feet high at the time of the crash, investigators said. There also was no turn lane for Wall and other southbound drivers.
Scott was not on an emergency call and was not trying to stop a vehicle before the crash, Capt. Mark Perry the Georgia Department of Public Safety previously said. In October, Scott was fired from his job as a trooper.
“Turns out he was running at a high rate of speed through this intersection in a territory that’s he’s familiar with and should have known the dangers that potentially exist,” Perry said.
Following an initial investigation, the State Patrol said Wall’s failure to yield and Scott’s speed both contributed to the crash. But Dillon Wall said he never saw the trooper’s patrol car, his aunt said.
During their deliberations, jurors asked several questions about state law, including whether Dillon Wall could have also been charged in the crash. Ultimately, they decided not to charge anyone.
The DA said Wall’s statement to the grand jury was consistent with the statement he made three days after the crash, but it may well have had an impact.
“Whether or not it sways a grand jury, I think one could make a persuasive argument that it does,” Skandalakis said.
He noted that grand jurors believed that both drivers were at fault.
“This was a tragic accident, and there’s nothing the criminal justice system can do to restore these families,” Skandalakis said.
Scott, who won a city council seat in Buchanan in November, could return to law enforcement but likely won’t, his attorney said. He’s now working in construction, Pilgrim said. Though Scott is eager to move on, he’ll never fully be able to get over his remorse.
“When his daughter starts driving, he’s going to remember it, and he’s going to have to live with it,” Pilgrim said.