Several days ago, a tragic wreck claimed the lives of four people in McDuffie County. My prayers go out to the friends and families of the individuals involved in the collision. Although no criminal charges are pending in this incident, there are some important factual issues to consider in deciding whether or not to seek testing from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab. Being a lawyer, these are issues I can’t help but think about.

My understanding of the accident is that a vehicle that was traveling eastbound on Augusta Highway at a high rate of speed. That vehicle then crossed over the center line and struck another vehicle, which was traveling westbound, head-on. All of the occupants, including the driver, of the at-fault vehicle were killed. The driver of the other vehicle was also killed and the passenger of that car was badly injured. While it’s obvious why no charges will be brought against the at-fault driver, I believe the State has a duty to provide an explanation as to how this occurred.

The argument that the Crime Lab does not perform autopsies on accident victims when charges are not pending is odd, at best. Over the years, I’ve read of cases where an autopsy was performed where criminal charges were not ever going to arise. For example, obvious suicide cases are the subject of many autopsies. No charges are pending on those cases; yet, an autopsy is performed. This is typically to rule out foul play. On this case, however, doesn’t the State bear the burden to uncover the cause of these deaths and to rule out foul play?

Let me provide some “what ifs” in this case that need to be answered. First, people are now speculating that the driver of the vehicle that crossed the center line was under the influence of something. What if he had a seizure which cause him to lose consciousness, caused him to accelerate and caused him to cross the line? Without an autopsy and toxicology reports, this is something we’ll never know. Furthermore, this man’s legacy is left to speculation. Was he an intoxicated driver or was this purely an accident? Additionally, what if that driver was attacked by one of his passengers in his vehicle thus causing him to cross the center line. Perhaps he could’ve been stabbed with a needle and had a substance injected into his body. This may sound far-fetched, but an autopsy and toxicology results would help eliminate these speculations.

Finally, from a civil lawsuit perspective, a determination of whether the driver that crossed the center line was intoxicated or not is crucial. That factor could change the recovery for the families of the deceased significantly. Additionally, if the scientific reports show that the driver had a seizure or some other medical condition that caused him to lose consciousness, then that could preclude a recovery in the case. Many things in this case depend upon the autopsy and toxicology tests being done. I hope for the sake of those who lost loved ones in this tragedy that the investigation continues.

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.