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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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UPDATE: Driver blames unresponsive steering wheel in 2012 Elizabethton vehicular homicide case

March 26th, 2014 9:13 pm by John Thompson

UPDATE: Driver blames unresponsive steering wheel in 2012 Elizabethton vehicular homicide case

Micah Cates

ELIZABETHTON — Defendant Micah Cates testified Thursday morning that the steering wheel of his 2002 BMW 325i became unresponsive as it was approaching a curve at the intersection of the Milligan Highway and Okolona Road on the morning of Aug. 14, 2012.

Cates is on trial on a vehicular homicide charge in the death of his passenger, Tanner Lee Perkins, 20. "He was my best friend," Cates testified.

Cates said he ran up on a concrete divider on Greenwood Road near the East Tennessee State University campus in May of 2012. The car was in the repair shop for a month. Repair shop owner Jeff Williams said Cates requested extensive steering and front suspension work on the car.

After he got the car back, Cates testified he had no problems with it, but he only drove it around Johnson City. He said the trip on the Milligan Highway on Aug. 14 was the first time he had it at highway speeds. During Wednesday's testimony, Elizabethton Police Corporal Ryan Brackett said the speedometer on the wrecked car was stuck at 85 mph.

There was also testimony from several witnesses on Thursday about the hours leading up to the wreck. Cates, Perkins and several others had gathered at Perkins' apartment to watch "Shark Week." They also were drinking. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported a sample of blood drawn from Cates after the crash indicated his blood alcohol percentage was .14, which exceeds the state DUI level of .08.

The jury will begin deliberating this afternoon.

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Earlier report:

ELIZABETHTON — “It was probably the worst wreck I have worked,” Sgt. Patrick White of the Elizabethton Police Department testified during the first day of the Micah Cates trial on vehicular homicide and driving under the influence charges.

White also told the jury the engine from the 2002 BMW 325i was found lying 45 feet from where the car crashed into a metal sign post at the Milligan Grocery, 1518 Milligan Highway, just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2012.

Cates, 21, was seriously injured and his passenger, Tanner Lee Perkins, 20, was pronounced dead at the scene

Cpl. Ryan Brackett was the lead investigator for the police department’s Specialized Traffic Accident Reconstruction Team. During his testimony, Brackett presented the speedometer he had taken from Cates’ car, which he said was stuck at 85 mph. He said there was also a strike mark made by the speedometer needle against the back of the instrument when the car came to a sudden stop when it hit the metal pole. That mark was also at a point indicating the car was going more than 80 mph. Brackett said the speed limit on the Milligan Highway at that point is 40 mph.

Brackett said the first observable skid marks were 220 feet away from the crash, near the Dollar General Store.

Chief Greg Workman, who was then the shift captain, said he was the first Elizabethton police officer on the scene. He said the skid marks were in a straight line from the Dollar General to the crash site, although the road curves at that point. Brackett said it did not appear there had been any steering away.

Using specialized mathematical formulas and a reconstruction of events leading up to the crash, Brackett estimated the speed of Cates’ car to be 91 mph at the start of the skid marks. He said he allowed 10 mph, plus or minus, for the speedometer being out of calibration.

Defense attorney Steve Finney questioned several points of the inspection, such as returning a cell phone found in the wreckage to family members before checking for any pertinent information that might be on it.

Assistant District Attorney General Janet Vest Hardin worked to show the jury that Brackett and other state witnesses were experts in their fields. She had him to explain to the jury some of the scientific process he used to develop his estimate of the speed the car was going.

Workman said the impact of the collision was so great the steel pole was in the rear of the passenger compartment. Brackett said he could not tell what kind of car was involved when he first approached the vehicle from the front. Only by going to the rear could he tell it was a BMW.

The trial will continue on Thursday. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is presiding.

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