published Friday, October 26th, 2012

Whitfield County grand jury indicts former Varnell, Ga., officer James Smith on homicide by vehicle

Varnell Police Officer James Smith was driving this cruiser when he crashed into Leon Thurman's car March 5. Thurman was at least the sixth Georgian killed in recent years in a crash involving a law enforcement vehicle.
Contributed Photo by Michael Thurman
Varnell Police Officer James Smith was driving this cruiser when he crashed into Leon Thurman's car March 5. Thurman was at least the sixth Georgian killed in recent years in a crash involving a law enforcement vehicle. Contributed Photo by Michael Thurman

A Varnell, Ga., police officer who was speeding when his cruiser slammed into the side of a 70-year-old newspaper carrier's car has been charged in the man's death.

A Whitfield County grand jury on Thursday indicted former Officer James Smith on charges of homicide by vehicle in the first degree and reckless driving in connection with the death of Leon Thurman.

Thurman was a retired Cohutta, Ga., farmer and longtime newspaper carrier for the Dalton Daily Citizen.

Conasauga District Attorney Bert Poston declined to give the exact speed that the six-year veteran was traveling seven months ago, but he said it was "substantially above the posted speed limit."

The morning of the March 5 crash, Smith had a 19-year-old passenger, who was part of a citizen ride-along program, in his cruiser when he smashed broadside into Thurman's Dodge Neon as the man was crossing four lanes on Cleveland Highway. Smith was not responding to an emergency, and his blue lights were not on.

Smith, who often met up with Thurman during his early shift and knew the man well, quit the force after the fiery crash. Police Chief Lynn Grant said at the time that Smith left because of emotional trauma resulting from the wreck.

Smith's attorney, Ralph Hinman, said his client will turn himself in this morning at the Whitfield County Jail. Smith has agreed to a $5,000 bond. Poston said an arraignment hasn't been set for Smith.

Thurman's son, Michael, declined comment on Smith's arrest.

The Thurmans also were paid an undisclosed amount of money by Varnell in a wrongful death lawsuit. The documents claimed Smith was driving twice the speed limit before the crash.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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