published Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Man sentenced to 9 years in Chattanooga DUI death

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Early on a December morning nearly two years ago, Robert Allen Atwood decided he was going to show his friend what his 1995 Camaro could do.

He pressed the gas pedal and got the sports car going at least 70 mph on one of St. Elmo's side streets.

Atwood and his passenger, James Michael Travillian, had been drinking.

Atwood lost control of the car, crossed Tennessee Avenue, ran off the road, hit a fence, three trees and two parked cars before striking a house.

Dan Basler was in bed that Sunday morning Dec. 4, 2011, when he heard a boom.

The careening Camaro had knocked Basler's Blue Chevrolet Blazer from his driveway and then struck his 4211 Tennessee Ave. home.

The pinball machinelike crash killed Travillian, 23, and sent Atwood to the hospital for a brief visit.

An hour and a half after the crash police measured a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 for Atwood. Travillian's measured 0.22 at the time of his death.

The legal limit in Tennessee for driving is 0.08.

On Monday, Atwood, 22, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication. He faced eight to 12 years in prison.

Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern sentenced him to nine years based on a plea deal reached by prosecutor Kate Lavery and Atwood's attorney, Hank Hill.

Lavery said she hoped the nine-year sentence would make young people think about the consequences of drinking and driving.

"Atwood has to deal with the fact that he killed a good friend of his," Lavery said. "Mr. Travillian's family will suffer for the rest of their lives."

In court documents, Atwood said at the time of the crash that he regularly drank up to a 12-pack of beer a day.

The records show he wrote a brief explanation, part of which states simply:

"I drove the car too fast and I had been drinking. The wreck was my fault and I killed my best friend. I am very sorry."

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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