Charged with vehicular homicide in the June 15, 2012, wreck that killed 16-year-old Northside High student Hannah Gilmer, Clayton Qualls was before a judge Friday for a reading of the charges against him.
Also facing charges stemming from the one-car wreck on County Line Road are Austin Lott and Daniel Hughes Massengale, indicted for tampering with evidence on accusations they helped Qualls hide beer from his car.
Attorneys on behalf of their clients pleaded not guilty to all the charges Friday, and Superior Court Judge John Allen heard no testimony.
Gilmer, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the Scion Qualls was driving when he lost control on a curve and crashed off the road’s left side, the car rolling through a fence and bouncing off a tree, police said.
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A grand jury indicted Qualls on three counts of first degree homicide by vehicle, one for driving under the influence of alcohol, one for being a teenager driving under the influence, and a third based on reckless driving.
The evidence tampering charges the other two youths face also are felonies.
According to testimony June 22 in Columbus Recorder’s Court, police probing the 11:13 p.m. wreck heard two white pickup trucks had been at the scene, but had left. Learning Lott was one of the pickup drivers, investigators summoned him to police headquarters, where the teen told them Qualls asked him to help hide some Keystone beer. Police said Lott threw a green cooler over a fence at the wreck site, a fence corner for Woodmere Farm, 12260 County Line Road.
Police said Lott and Massengale had been traveling ahead of the westbound 2006 Scion Qualls was driving when he lost control of the car on the curve west of Randall Woods Drive.
As the Scion slid off the road, it rotated so its passenger side turned toward an embankment off the road’s left side. The car rolled up the incline, crashed through a wooden fence, glanced off a cedar tree and came to rest on its roof. With severe internal injuries, Gilmer lay 2 feet from the car’s passenger side.
One of the teens in the trucks ahead saw the wreck in his rearview mirror, and both returned and helped Qualls get rid of the beer, police said.
Investigators said Qualls had superficial injuries. He and Gilmer were taken by ambulance to The Medical Center, where she died around 1 a.m. the next day, authorities said.
Records showed Qualls already had a pending alcohol-related traffic charge: On June 4, 2012, he was charged with DUI under 21 and being a minor in possession of alcohol after a Harris County deputy saw a passenger toss a beer can from Qualls’ pickup at Winfree Road and Georgia 208.
Qualls was with three other teens, including two girls. In the backseat the deputy found a green cooler containing several unopened beer cans, according to the report. Qualls denied drinking, the report said, but blew an alcohol test of .078 on the deputy’s hand-held Alco-Sensor. The legal limit in Georgia is .08 for adults and .02 for drivers under 21.
Qualls refused the state alcohol test at the jail, prompting authorities to take his driver’s license, said Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley. Qualls requested an administrative license suspension hearing, Jolley said, and had been driving with the ticket instead of a license.
“For 30 days, you can drive until that’s heard,” Jolley said.