After a two-and-a-half month investigation, police have compiled a report that indicates 17-year-old Travis Beasley, the driver, was responsible for the crash on Nov. 20. Traffic investigator Roy Bennett and Sgt. Scott Grissom plan to present that report to the Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office, seeking criminal prosecution of Beasley.
Contacted Friday, Beasley’s mother said neither she nor her son wanted to comment.
The public report indicates Beasley, a Weaver High School student, was speeding northbound on Quintard Avenue around 11:15 p.m. when he pulled the parking brake of his white Nissan Maxima. Beasley was driving at speeds between 65 and 70 mph, the report shows, or more than 30 mph above the posted speed limit.
Investigators and the report said that by engaging the brake at such a high speed, Beasley caused the vehicle’s rear wheels to lock. As a result, the car spun out of control, hit the right curb and slammed into the light pole at the corner of Quintard Avenue and East 12th Street.
“Marks in the roadway indicated Beasley counter-steered, but was not able to control (the car) due to the high speed involved,” the report read. “(The car) struck the curb and then the steel light pole approximately four seconds after he engaged the parking brake.”
Weaver High junior Cody Watson, the passenger in the front seat, was pronounced dead on the scene. The passenger in the back seat, Cameron Mitchell, also a Weaver junior, and Beasley were taken to Regional Medical Center with broken femurs and arms and an assortment of other injuries.
Anniston police said the tragedy could’ve been prevented if Beasley had been driving responsibly.
“He was going way too fast, even if there was no traffic around,” Grissom said.
Bennett said probable cause for criminal prosecution stems from the information he gathered during months of investigation. The information in the accident report, a public record, is based on mathematical analysis of the markings the Maxima left on the road seconds before the crash and based on witness interviews, including with Beasley himself.
The report details some of what police said Beasley told them about the crash.
“Beasley said as he was going down Quintard Avenue, he decided to ‘bark’ his tires by quickly engaging and disengaging his parking brake,” the report states. “Beasley said he panicked, let go of the parking brake lever, and attempted to steer out of the slide.”
“Barking” brakes, Bennett said, is when the driver of a vehicle quickly pulls and releases the parking brake to make a squealing sound and leave skid marks on the road. It’s a stunt often associated with street racing and movies about street racing, Grissom said.
And police believe the crash — and Watson’s death — is a direct result of that brake “stunt” combined with the Maxima’s high rate of speed, both of which were deliberate actions police say Beasley took.
“There is misconduct … we are asking for criminal prosecution of the driver,” Grissom said.
It will be up to prosecutors at the district attorney’s office to decide what to do with the case once police turn it over to them.
Attempts to reach prosecutors Friday were unsuccessful, but Anniston investigators said one of three things can happen when the case lands on Chief Assistant District Attorney Brian McVeigh’s desk.
One: After reviewing the case, prosecutors could find there’s no probable cause to charge Beasley and decide not to pursue it.
Two: Prosecutors could find probable cause to charge Beasley with a crime and sign a warrant for his immediate arrest.
Three: Prosecutors could send the case to a grand jury to determine whether the case will be prosecuted, and, if so, what the charges will be.
Grissom said he expects prosecutors to pick the third option.
That’s because “there is not a clear, intoxicated driver … but there is obvious driver misconduct,” Grissom said.
“And they (prosecutors) like to let the peers of Calhoun County look at it,” Bennett added.
In a grand jury case, county residents selected to hear the preliminary case must decide whether there is probable cause for a defendant to be criminally charged and then determine what that charge will be.
Grissom said he expects Beasley to be charged with either vehicular homicide or manslaughter.
“Because he didn’t intend for it (the crash or Watson’s death) to happen,” Bennett said.
Alabama code states a person commits manslaughter if “he recklessly causes the death of another person or if he causes the death of another person under circumstances that would constitute murder.”
Vehicular homicide, according to state code, is listed under “criminally negligent homicide,” where a defendant is guilty when his unlawful or reckless action or inaction causes a death, Grissom said.
Investigators plan to turn the case over to prosecutors within the next 10 days.
In the meantime, Bennett plans to continue his investigation; police are still waiting on final autopsy and toxicology results from the state Department of Forensic Sciences.
“My investigation is not over,” he said. “It’s a tragic situation.”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562.