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Victims' families of fatal hit and run: 'We got justice'

7:06 PM, Apr 17, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Harper found guilty on all counts related to triple fatal hit & run

  • Chasity Thornell
  • Curtis Scott Harper 2012 mugshot taken after hit-and-run charges.
  • Nelson Soto Sr.
    

The families of Curtis Harper, Nelson Soto, Sr., and Chasity Thornell all showed tears Wednesday afternoon in Knox County court -- all for different reasons.

A jury found Harper, a Middle Tennessee man and recent graduate of the University of Tennessee guilty on all 11 counts in a May 2012 hit and run.

"We got justice. I miss my dad. We'll never get him back," Soto's daughter Angela said.

A jury found Harper guilty of three counts of vehicular homicide by DUI, three counts of vehicular homicide by reckless conduct, one count each of DUI, tampering with evidence, and reckless endangerment and leaving the scene of an accident.

An eleventh charge of DUI second offense was introduced to the jury after the first ten counts were handed down. Harper was also found guilty. In 2009, Harper was found driving drunk in Buncombe County, NC.

"We hope situations like this make people think and call a cab, slow down, buckle up, pay attention to each other on the road," said prosecuting attorney Sarah Keith.

According to the state, each of the vehicular homicide by intoxication charge carries an 8 to 12 year sentence; each vehicular homicide by reckless conduct has a 3 to 6. The charges could run concurrently.

All totaled with the other charges, Harper faces up to more than 46 years in jail and up to more than $100,000 dollars in fines. However, he could still get probation on some of the charges.

"Each of the families will give an impact statement. Probation will do a per-sentence investigation and give their recommendation for what the punishment should be," Keith added.

The families hope today's decision will prove a point.

"I hope that this gets a message out there that it's never safe to drink and drive because one second can affect so many lives," Chasity's mother, Stephanie said.

Harper was sent to jail on a mandatory 45-day sentence on the second offense DUI charge. His bond was revoked.

Sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 26 at 1:00 p.m.

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Curtis Scott Harper has been found guilty of vehicular homicide in a triple fatal hit and run that left a pregnant woman, her unborn child, and a Good Samaritan dead.

The jury found Harper guilty on all 11 counts against him:  three counts of vehicular homicide, and one count each of DUI, tampering with evidence, and reckless endangerment.  After they reached their verdict, the jury then heard and rendered a guilty verdict on a 2nd offense DUI.  They could not hear evidence about that prior DUI until this case was over.

Harper was charged in May 2012, after investigators say Harper hit and killed Nelzon Soto, Sr. and Chastity Thornell, along with Thornell's unborn baby girl.  They were assisting Thornell's friend who had run out of gas on the side of Washington Pike in the early morning hours.

After the verdict, the families of the victims were smiling through tears, visibly relieved at the jury's decision.  Thornell's grandmother, Sue Renfro said, "I'm relieved, justice for Chastity and her baby girl, and Mr. Soto, too."

His trial started last week in downtown Knoxville.  Prosecutors contend that Harper was driving drunk when he Soto and Thornell, and left the scene of the accident.  They say he then worked to cover up the crime.  The defense says Harper was not drunk, that it was dark and the car was partially in the roadway.  Harper's attorneys say the accident was unavoidable, that Harper did not realize he'd hit anyone until later, and that he was scared and reacted badly. 

Harper took the stand in his own defense on Monday.  The jury started deliberating Tuesday afternoon, took the night off, and came back with the verdict just after 11:00 am on Wednesday.

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