ELIZABETHTON — After a two-day trial Wednesday and Thursday, a Carter County jury found Micah Cates guilty of vehicular homicide in the death of Tanner Perkins.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood set a sentencing hearing for May 5.
Cates, 21, remained calm as the verdict was announced by the jury foreman. Several family members behind him quietly cried. He had testified earlier in the day, telling the jury that Perkins, 20, had been his best friend since childhood.
Perkins was a passenger in a 2002 BMW 325i when it ran off the Milligan Highway and struck a metal sign pole at the Milligan Grocery, 1518 Milligan Highway, sometime before 2 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2012. The crash’s impact was so great that the car’s engine was lying 45 feet away from where the car came to a stop.
Corp. Ryan Brackett of the Elizabethton Police Department said he took the car’s speedometer from the wreck. He said the needle was stuck at the 85 mph mark. Brackett said he found a 220-foot long straight-line skid mark in the curve leading to the crash. He estimated the car’s speed at the time braking started to be 91 mph.
Brackett said Cates suffered a broken leg in the crash and was unable to perform a field sobriety test, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab found the alcohol level in his blood to be at 0.14. The legal limit in Tennessee is 0.08.
Cates had testified that he and some other friends had been at Perkins’ apartment to watch “Shark Week.” He admitted to drinking mixed drinks. He said he and Perkins left to get cigarettes. Another friend who was at the apartment, Hunter Tipton, said he offered to drive them, but said Cates told him he was alright. Cates described the ride before the crash as a pleasant one, with both men enjoying listening to music.
Cates said as he entered the curve at the Milligan Grocery, he noticed his steering wheel wasn’t working. He said the wheels would not turn. That was when he began applying the brakes. Cates said he had a problem with the car in May, when he hit a curb on Greenwood Drive and “broke some stuff from under the car.” He said he put the car in a repair shop for a month, getting it back out in June. After that, he had just driven it around Johnson City without approaching highway speeds until the night of the accident.
Assistant District Attorney Robin Ray told the jury that Cates was the driver and was in control. She said “you know you are impaired and you drive anyway. You allow someone to get in your car with you.” She said the driver can decide who can and cannot ride with him. “It is a result of the actions of the driver that Tanner Perkins is no longer with us.”
Defense Attorney Steve Finney told the jury the state had not met the burden of proof on several matters, such as checking to see if Cates’ car had previous problems or damage.
Earlier version of this story:
ELIZABETHTON — A Carter County jury on Thursday found a man guilty of vehicular homicide in the 2012 crash that killed his "best friend."
Micah Cates will face a sentencing hearing May 5 after the guilty verdict in the two-day trial related to the death of his passenger, Tanner Lee Perkins, 20, on Milligan Highway near Okolona Road on the morning of Aug. 14, 2012.
Earlier in the trial Thursday, Cates testified that the steering wheel of his 2002 BMW 325i became unresponsive as it was approaching the curve.
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.
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