More than 100 cases dropped after cop's firing

Was terminated for driving past fatal MVC last year

By Matt Lakin
News Sentinel

KNOXVILLE — A hundred-plus drivers can tear up their court papers and walk away, courtesy of the ex-Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper fired for driving past a fiery wreck last year.

Knox County prosecutors dropped charges Friday in all cases handled by Charles Van Morgan, a veteran trooper who routinely logged the most drunkendriving arrests in the Knoxville district for years.

Morgan lost his job this month after THP internal investigators determined he drove by the Nov. 26 wreck that killed Gordon Kyle Anito on Andersonville Pike in North Knox County and didn't stop. The agency fired him for neglect of duty and conduct unbecoming a trooper.

"Mr. Morgan's actions were so egregious as to completely destroy his credibility," Tammy Hicks, an assistant district attorney general, wrote in a motion. "As such, the district attorney general's office cannot continue with the prosecution of his cases."

The cases dismissed Friday ranged from felonies to misdemeanors and amounted to 95 defendants, some facing more than half a dozen charges each. About half the defendants appeared to be first offenders, with others on their second and third DUI arrests.

That number doesn't include minor traffic tickets. Prosecutors said they're still trying to sort through those and drop them one by one.

That could take a while. Morgan's personnel file shows he averaged as many as 300 total arrests and citations per year. He made 117 DUI arrests alone in 2010 - more than any other trooper in the state.

The defendants who won't come back to court include Justin Ryan Kinard, 37, of Decatur, Ga., who faced charges of an implied consent violation and vehicular assault on a child. Morgan arrested him May 21 after Kinard's Nissan Maxima ran off Interstate 75 North around 1:15 a.m., hit a tree head-on and flipped with his toddler daughter in the car.

Kinard failed field sobriety tests and admitted to taking Xanax but refused to give a blood sample, Morgan wrote in an arrest warrant. Morgan forced him to give a blood sample anyway, as allowed by law in cases involving serious injury, but prosecutors can't use the test results now.

Morgan had worked for the state Department of Safety for nine years when he clocked Anito driving nearly 80 mph in a 40 mph zone on Emory Road just before 3:30 a.m. The trooper turned on his lights and siren.

Friends have said Anito had been drinking, although tests for drugs and alcohol aren't complete.

Anito led the trooper on a chase onto Andersonville Pike. Video from Morgan's cruiser shows he passed Anito's 2005 Subaru Impreza moments after it crashed head-on into a tree and as smoke and the glow of a fire spilled from under the hood. The THP determined Morgan's car slowed to almost 20 mph as he passed but kept going. He didn't know then whether Anito was dead or whether anyone else was in the car.

Morgan told dispatchers he'd lost the car and kept going for another half-mile, then sat parked for about five minutes until dispatchers broadcast a neighbor's report of hearing the wreck.

Morgan drove back to a car engulfed in flames. He sprayed it clumsily with a fire extinguisher - "to make it look good," he later explained.

Morgan says he saw the car but thought it was parked. He'll face no criminal charges, and the THP found no fault with the initial chase.

Anito's family has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit in his death.

Morgan remains on paid leave until Monday, when his firing becomes final. He appealed his firing, but Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons turned the appeal down this week.

Morgan has until next month to decide whether to fight the commissioner's decision. His lawyer has said he'll exhaust all appeals.

Copyright 2012 News Sentinel

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