Andrea Nantz, 26, of Harrogate, faced three to six years in prison if she had gone to trial and been convicted.
She was charged in connection with a June 16, 2010, wreck on Highway 11E in which she rear-ended a vehicle parked on the side of the road. The driver of that car, Floyd Watts, 76, 107 Ashland Drive, Greeneville, died from injuries he suffered when Nantz hit his car, investigators said.
Witnesses to the wreck told Washington County sheriff’s deputies that Nantz’s vehicle “veered off, not gradually, but drastically. (Nantz) advised she did not know what happened and could not remember,” a court document said.
The case fell apart late last week after prosecutors discovered evidence that actually cleared Nantz of a criminal act.
Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said after the hearing that a vehicle crash that results in a death is not, in and of itself, a criminal act.
The state’s theory early in the case was that Nantz was impaired. Toxicology tests showed she didn’t have alcohol in her blood, but did have trace amounts of amphetamines, methamphetamine, oxycodone and marijuana metabolite. Prosecutors said the amounts of the drugs were not enough to have impaired her driving.
Once the impaired driver theory disappeared, the case had moved forward under the theory that Nantz was negligent by using a cell phone at the time of the wreck.
Last-minute investigations by Baldwin — who only came into the case earlier this year — and defense attorney Bill Francisco revealed several key pieces of evidence.
The new information was that Nantz did not have a cell phone with her when the crash happened, her passenger’s cell phone was not in use at the time of the crash and a cell phone number she gave as a contact number, which investigators initially believed to be hers, was used multiple times around the time of and after the crash when Nantz was immobilized by medical personnel.
An EMT who was at the scene was also set to testify for the defense that Nantz did not have a cell phone when he was treating her and while she was being transported to the hospital.
Baldwin told Judge Stacy Street that it was impossible for Nantz to have been using that phone, which deteriorated the original theory she was distracted by a cell phone.
“It was obvious she did not make” the calls, Baldwin said. “Her reason for why she left the road is, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Baldwin said, “all that we know is she left the road.”
The state also dismissed a failure to appear charge against Nantz for not showing up to a hearing in the case last year. Baldwin said Nantz had a valid medical document showing the reason she was not in court.
While the case outcome was good for Nantz, it was not for Watts’ family. One of his daughters, Paula Philbeck, attended the hearing. Her sister was so upset she became ill and could not attend, Philbeck said.
“Washington County failed to do their job. The DA’s office failed to do their job,” Philbeck said. “It’s never been about her doing jail time. It’s about her being held accountable.
“My father brought us up with honor and integrity. If you do something wrong, you admit you did wrong,” she said.
Watts served as a Marine and completed four combat tours in Vietnam, she said.
Philbeck indicated she and her sister would likely pursue a civil case against Nantz.