A jury's verdict made a defendant weep tears of relief Thursday afternoon, even though they found her guilty.
Tracy Lynn Bell, 33, of Nolensville was found guilty of driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an injury accident, failing to notify police of an accident, and violation of the open container law.
These are misdemeanor offences, so Bell will not have a felony conviction on her record.
"My client was very happy with the decision of the jury because now she can put the fear of felony prosecution behind her," attorney David McKenzie said.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Collins sought a conviction for vehicular assault, a Class D felony, and two counts of reckless endangerment, but could not persuade the jury of five men and seven women to agree with him.
"She made a lot of poor choices," commented juror Emily Bell. "But she did not know those children would be in her car."
Bell drove off without the children. After her husband rammed and stopped her, the children ran to her and climbed in her car.
"I do not think she meant to harm that child," the juror said.
A 10-year-old boy suffered a broken leg during the crash.
"The jury tried to do a fair thing," the juror continued. "We were very diligent."
At the end of the two-day-trial, Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler told the prosecutor and the defense attorney: "You tried an excellent law suit. You're going to be fine lawyers. You are already."
During his opening statement, McKenzie said, "We're here to hear the whole truth."
The prosecution's witnesses on the trial's first day established basic facts of the Feb. 5, 2010 wreck. A neighbor told how he found Bell, her three sons and a friend, moments after the crash on Mt. Vernon Road and described how she called someone to pick her and the boys up and take them to the hospital. Law officers described finding Bell's empty Jeep and arresting her for DUI at the emergency room. A forensic toxicologist from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified that Bell's blood alcohol level was .08 - over the legal limit. The Vanderbilt doctor - on pediatric rotation when Bell's son was admitted - told the jury about the operation to place pins to stabilize the 10-year-old's broken thighbone.
"We never tried to hide the facts," McKenzie said.
Thursday morning McKenzie called two witnesses: Chris Sullivan, the passenger in the Jeep; and Bell, herself. She was on the witness stand for over an hour and was "very forthcoming," according to McKenzie.
"The felony charges were a bit of a stretch, in the light of the facts," McKenzie said in an interview after the trial. The facts, as revealed by Bell's testimony, were that she was fleeing from her abusive husband. She passed their home in Nolensville in the Jeep with Sullivan. Her husband put their three sons in his car and chased her. Robert Bell repeatedly rammed his wife's car, and finally pulled in front of her, forcing her to stop. At this point, the boys ran to their mother, crying, and she drove off again, this time eluding her pursuer, only to crash moments later on Mt. Vernon Road. Bell knew she should not have been drinking and driving, and "she showed remorse for that," McKenzie said, but it was an extreme situation. The couple has been separated since the accident.
Bell surrendered her driver's license at the end of the trial, and will have a sentencing hearing March 23.