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Sunday, December 12, 2010

TENNESSEE: No charges for dirt bike rider in resident's death

No charges for dirt bike rider in resident's death

Not enough evidence to charge teen with homicide, Nichols says By Don Jacobs Knoxville News Sentinel Posted December 11 2010

Sandy Ferguson tends to a memorial for her brother, Chris Billington, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010 in West Knox County. Billington, 43, died May 6 after he was struck by a motorcycle driven by a teenager. Billington's family is disappointed that the district attorney is not pursuing criminal charges. No charges will be filed in the death of a West Knox County man who was trying to stop a teen on an illegal motorcycle from whizzing along his residential street.
Chris Billington was knocked to the asphalt by the motorcycle, causing him to tumble on Pinedale Drive, cracking his skull. The 43-year-old man lay motionless face down on the street after the impact. He was declared dead 45 minutes later.
"There is not enough evidence to sustain a successful prosecution on a homicide case," Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols said.
Nichols met Wednesday with Billington's mother and sister to explain why no charges will be filed against Tashanti Underwood, now 16, of Concord Woods Drive.
Underwood was 15 at the time of the May 6 incident. He did not have a license to drive the 2001 KTM 300 dirt bike, which was not outfitted with mirrors, a head light, tail lights or horn, as required by state law.
"They could not prove he intended to kill Chris," sister Sandy Ferguson, 47, said Wednesday after meeting with Nichols. "Personally, I understand the legalities, what they're up against. What I don't understand is the juvenile system. It should be more strict."
Underwood's legal guardian, Traci Waldo, learned Wednesday from the News Sentinel that no charges would be filed against the Farragut High School teen. Underwood's father is not in the area and his mother died in 2000 while in the Roane County Jail. Underwood's grandmother in January accepted a court settlement in the jail death.
"We're sorry for the loss of this man's life," Waldo said. "It's a sad situation and nobody wins. Our family really feels bad for them."
Waldo said Underwood "still has nightmares at night" about the 8:50 p.m. incident that resulted in Billington's death. The family has since sold the dirt bike, she said.
While Underwood faces no criminal charges in Billington's death, he may face some consequences from the fatal encounter.
Nichols said Underwood faces an undisclosed charge in Knox County Juvenile Court. State law forbids court officials from disclosing most juvenile charges, but police records note Underwood was one of several suspects in August accused of beating an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of a Starbucks on Parkside Drive.
"The judge needs to know about this conduct for whatever benefit it might be for the court," Nichols said.
Billington moved in with his mother on Pinedale Avenue in October 2009 to help care for her. The arrangement was good for Billington because his profession as an audio engineer often took him out of town, Ferguson said.
The tranquility of the Lovell Hills subdivision where Billington lived was disrupted last spring when teens on motorcycles and all terrain vehicles began running along Pinedale Road. Records show the Knox County Sheriff's Office responded several times to complaints.
Residents, and especially Billington, weren't satisfied with the law enforcement response.
On May 6, Billington was drinking an alcoholic beverage and visiting with his next-door neighbor. As the neighbor, Dewayne Hastings, played with his two children in the yard, Billington complained about the danger of teens speeding along Pinedale Drive.
Although Hastings said Billington didn't seem inebriated, toxicology tests later showed Billington's blood-alcohol level was 0.09 percent. Legal intoxication for operating a motor vehicle is 0.08 percent, under state law.
Billington was holding a mixed drink in a plastic cup while the men talked. Hastings said Billington seemed especially "agitated" about the motorcycle issue.
As Hastings and Billington talked, the raucous sound of a dirt bike resonated through the neighborhood.
Hastings told KCSO investigators that Billington "sprinted up into the road" to confront the oncoming motorcycle, according to the investigative file. Billington ordered Underwood, who was wearing a helmet, to stop and cursed at the teen, Hastings said.
"I guess it's almost like they were playing a game of chicken," Hastings told the KCSO, the investigation showed.
Hastings said he never saw the impact because of a bush blocking his view, but he said Underwood swerved the dirt bike. And then Hastings saw Billington rolling on the roadway.
"The handlebar of the motorcycle struck Mr. Billington in the chest, knocking him to the pavement," the KCSO report noted.
The Knox County medical examiner noted a bruise on the chest of the 5-foot, 3-inch tall Billington. The 160-pound man also sustained two broken ribs.
Underwood, whose blood test later revealed marijuana use, did not stop. Authorities estimated the motorcycle was traveling at less than 30 mph upon contact with Billington.
"He just ran in front of me," Underwood told a KCSO officer when he was found at his home about 11:30 p.m. May 6, the investigation showed.
Underwood said he didn't stop because he didn't know Billington was injured and he was afraid that Billington wanted to hurt him, records state.
Even Hastings later admitted to authorities he probably would not have stopped for the angry Billington if he had been driving the motorcycle.
According to records, Billington had problems with speeding drivers before he moved to West Knox County. He was arrested in October 2009 after repeatedly calling E-911 about speeding college students on Scottish Pike in South Knoxville. The charge later was dismissed.
Billington was upset that "spoiled mama's boys" and "college punks" were endangering residents by speeding along the road, records show. Those comments were included in a profanity-laced recording Billington left for the property manager of the complex where the University of Tennessee students lived.
Billington also was involved in January 2008 in a road-rage incident, records show. That involved a dispute with a tailgating driver in a van that led to both drivers stopping in a church parking lot off Bridgewater Road in West Knoxville.
A Knoxville Police Department officer interrupted the encounter after seeing the vehicles speeding along Interstate 40 at 90 mph, records show.
Despite those incidents, Billington's sister said she didn't want her brother portrayed as "a vigilante drunk."
"Chris was at fault for putting himself in the street and in harm's way," Ferguson said. "Chris paid the price.
"But Tashanti, whose actions caused Chris to do what he did, gets away with nothing happening to him."
Billington, Ferguson said, had a big heart and "was just trying to make the community safer" by stopping the motorcycles zipping through the subdivision.
"It ran all over him that other people, like Tashanti, don't have any consideration for other peoples' lives," Ferguson said of her brother. "It enraged him.
"I think sooner or later - with all the people walking their dogs, pushing children in strollers and just getting their mail - if it hadn't been Chris, somebody was going to get hurt."
With almost quiet reflection, Ferguson noted her brother's death wasn't in vain.
"Chris did stop the motorcycle problem and did make it safer for the residents," she said. "As soon as Chris died, it stopped."