Nighttime, October 11, 2009. Trooper Tony Mackian drove his State Police cruiser southbound on U.S. 221 near Midway when he saw one of a driver’s worst nightmares: Two vehicles — a pickup truck and a car — side by side as they topped the hill northbound on the two-lane highway.
Mackian’s in-car radar clocked the oncoming vehicles at 84 miles per hour — 29 mph over the speed limit. He swerved his patrol car off the road to miss the oncoming vehicles, flipped on his emergency lights and turned around to pursue. After reaching speeds up to 115 mph, he pulled over the car, driven by 18-year-old Alisha Ann Gray, a Floyd County High School graduate and member of the school’s athletic teams.
A radio call to the Floyd County Sheriff’s office brought a response from deputy Chris Reeves, who stopped the pickup truck, driven by 19-year-old Jacob Kane Nolen, another FCHS graduate and athlete.
Nolen, Mackian said, said he and Gray had had a fight and she was chasing him.
Mackian charged Nolen with reckless driving and racing, both serious traffic offenses. Grey received tickets for reckless driving and driving in a no-passing lane.
In Floyd General District Court in March, both lost their driving privileges for 90 days and received heavy fines. Both appealed the decision to Circuit Court.
At the appeal trial on Tuesday, both Nolen and Gray denied having a fight. Nolen admitted he “might” have told Mackian that he and Gray were fighting but said that it was an attempt to come up with an excuse for running side by side over a blind hill at 84 miles-per-hour. Visiting Circuit Judge Brett Greisler dismissed the racing charge but lifted Nolen’s license for 90 days and Grey’s for 70. Both also received fines.
After a stinging lecture about “doing stupid, dangerous things with dangerous machines,” Geisler granted both restricted licenses allowing them to drive to and from work and to and from school (Nolen is attending New River Community College in Dublin and Gray begins classes at an art school in Charlotte in August).
While traffic cases involving drivers who do “stupid, dangerous things with dangerous machines” seldom hit the front page of The Floyd Press, this case did because it was an appeal to Circuit Court and a situation where two drivers drive in a manner that could have easily killed an oncoming driver.
Nolen’s father, Darrel Nolen, doesn’t agree and came to The Floyd Press Thursday to complain about the story and it’s placement on page one. The elder Nolen says there’s more to the story, claiming Trooper Mackian “lied” about the incident and changed his testimony between the earlier court hearing in General District Court and the appeal trial in Circuit Court.
In court, defense attorney Angi Simkins accused Mackian of changing his testimony on who said they two were fighting, claiming the trooper in General District Court had said Gray made the statement.
I suggested to the father that if he, in fact, felt the trooper perjured himself on the witness stand then he could go to the State Police District Headquarters in Salem and file a formal complaint against Mackian.
Mr. Nolen did not seem inclined to do that, saying the family just wanted to put the incident behind them. He said the appeals were necessary to allow the kids to keep their drivers’ licenses so they could drive to and from work and school.
In court, parents of both teenagers said they had been tough on the kids for driving so fast and side-by-side on a public road but they, along with defense attorney Angi Simkins, blamed part of the offense on teenage recklessness and said all of us have done stupid things as teenagers.
I can understand that feeling. As a teenager, I did some incredibly stupid and dangerous things behind the wheel, including outrunning then-trooper Tom Higgins after he tried to stop me and another teenage driver for racing on U.S. 221 south of Willis in 1964.
Higgins was waiting for me when I got home later that night and delivered a tongue-lashing before letting me go. While I appreciated the break, the lecture didn’t stop me from driving too fast and it took a wreck and injuries some years later to finally end my need for speed.
Judge Geisler told the teens that their serious actions require serious consequences. While there is room for debate on whether or not the consequences were tempered with the granting of restricted lives, the two still face a future with expensive, assigned-risk car insurance and other financial penalties from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles..
Another consequence when you break the law and appear in court is a story in the newspaper. It’s part of the price you pay when you do stupid, dangerous things with dangerous machines.