Jailer's vehicle crashes

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

A Marshall County Jail corrections officer collided in his county transport car with a car his ex-wife was driving on Highway 431 as they traveled toward Lewisburg after she picked up their children on Sunday, the Sheriff's Department reported Monday.

Transport Officer Justin Christmas was cited by Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper John Judge to a Jan. 9 hearing in Marshall County General Sessions Court where the question is whether he was exercising due care while driving. The officer's former wife was charged with driving when her license was suspended.

Officer Christmas was flown by an Air Evac helicopter ambulance from the crash scene on Fayetteville Highway where the cruiser he was driving collided with a black Oldsmobile Alero driven by Jessica Christmas, Judge said. The Sheriff's Department reported that the transport officer was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center and that he was released later in the evening with minor injuries.

The crash was at approximately 3:30 p.m., Dec. 11, the department reported.

Justin Christmas was driving to work for a shift at the jail, Sheriff Norman Dalton said Monday afternoon. Sheriff's Department employees like Christmas are allowed to drive their work vehicle home and then back to work. The crash has no effect on the drive-home-car policy, something Dalton endorsed when he was a candidate for sheriff.

The patrol car is repairable and the county's insurance policy will cover the cost of that, Dalton said. Marshall County Budget Director Freda Terry said the county is insured through the Local Government Insurance Pool, a self-insurance fund created by the state Legislature. "It's a liability claim," Terry said.

The collision was at Belfast Hill.

"Both were going north," Judge said. "She was in the fast lane and he was in the slow lane. For some reason he entered her lane."

The Alero collided with the patrol car where an image of the department's star-shaped badge is on one of the doors, the trooper said.

Both vehicles came to rest off the southbound lane of the highway, Judge said. The Alero was in a ditch that's about four feet deep. The 2011 Ford Crown Victoria stopped on the shoulder of the highway.

The transport officer "was talking and alert" at the scene before he was flown to the hospital in Nashville, Judge said.

Motorists are to exercise due care while driving on the public highways, the trooper said, reading aloud from a manual. Judge consulted with Assistant District Attorney Chris Collins before writing the citation.

The Alero passengers were a boy, a girl and a man. The children were described as those of Justin and Jessica Christmas: son and daughter. The boy and the man suffered minor injuries and papers were signed indicating that they declined transportation by a Marshall County Emergency Medical Service ambulance, Judge said.

Neither vehicle was drivable Sunday night Judge said. The Alero was towed to Brown & Son Auto Center. The 2011 Ford Crown Victoria was towed to the Sheriff's Department and locked in the county's metal storage building on First Avenue North at Water Street.