Kingsport man indicted in fatal Interstate 26 crash that killed ETSU student

Becky Campbell • Updated Jul 22, 2019 at 10:57 PM

A Washington County grand jury indicted a Kingsport man who told officers he drank 12 beers before he ran into another vehicle from behind, which killed the other driver. 

William H. Lawson, 29, 5837 Cochise Trail, Kingsport, was indicted last week on charges of vehicular homicide by intoxication, reckless endangerment, possession of Suboxone without a prescription, possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest and simple assault. 

The charges stem from a deadly crash on Interstate 26 shortly before midnight on March 4. The crash happened in the westbound lanes of the interstate near mile marker 21.2, just prior to the Mountcastle Drive overpass. Lawson, who was driving a white 2004 Ford F150, rear ended a blue 1997 Honda Civic driven by Raymond Thomas “Ray” Cox, 21, of Johnson City.

Cox, a native of Grayson County, Virginia, was a senior at East Tennessee State University and set to graduate in May. Instead, his sister, Renee Graves, walked the stage in a white T-shirt with her brother’s picture on it to accept the degree. She said her brother intended to continue his education to become a physical therapist.

The wreck happened where traffic had slowed due to a crash that had occurred earlier. First responders and police were still on the scene of the first crash when the fatal collision occurred.

Police said Cox’s car was propelled down the interstate and into the center cable barriers. Cox was pronounced dead at the scene.

Lawson was taken into custody and officers searched his vehicle, where they found a white plastic bottle that contained a red straw with a powdery substance on it and a single pill identified as Suboxone. Sgt. Reggie Sparks, one of the city’s traffic enforcement officers, stated in a court document that he transported Lawson to the parking lot of Captain D’s restaurant so he would have a safe and flat area to conduct a field sobriety test.

When they arrived at that location and Lawson was getting out of the police car, police said he fell face first onto the ground, which scraped his head and caused a small knot to pop up. He was later transported to Johnson City Medical Center to have that injury checked and for a blood draw, which he consented to, according to police.

During the trip to jail, Lawson was able to get his cuffed hands in front of him and began kicking the seats and doors.

Sparks stated in his arrest warrant that Lawson’s speech was slurred, he smelled like he’d been drinking and he could not stand or walk unassisted. Lawson was reportedly unable to perform field sobriety tests adequately, police said.

After being treated at hospital and having blood drawn, Lawson was being led to the police cruiser and began to resist, according to the affidavit. Sparks used a one-second burst of pepper spray in an attempt to subdue Lawson, but that didn’t work. Hospital security and staff assisted Sparks in getting Lawson into the police car, and during that process Lawson allegedly spat on a nurse.

Lawson is free on $51,000 bond. His next court date is July 31.

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