Shelby Co. grand jury indicts uninsured driver in fatal crash - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Shelby Co. grand jury indicts uninsured driver in fatal crash

Shelby Co. grand jury indicts uninsured driver in fatal crash

Roderick Maggett (Photo Source: SCSO) Roderick Maggett (Photo Source: SCSO)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -

A Shelby County grand jury has indicted a Cordova, TN, man in the wake of a fatal auto accident that has spawned the most aggressive package of penalties against Tennessee's uninsured drivers in nearly four decades.

According to the indictment, 24-year-old Roderick Maggett of Cordova, TN, "...did unlawfully and recklessly kill James Lee Atwood Jr. by the operation of a motor vehicle" in a two-car crash on Shelby Dr. last July. Maggett will face a criminal trial on charges of vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment,

"It lets me know that God's in control," said Atwood's mother, Rhonda Cochran. "So I think that justice is going to be served."

According to criminal records and to a WMC Action News 5 investigation, police had pulled over Maggett earlier the same day of the accident, charging him with violating Tennessee's financial responsibility law (no proof of insurance). Since the violation is a misdemeanor ($100 fine) and the law does not currently allow law officers to detain violators or their vehicles, police cited Maggett and let him back on the road.

Seven hours later, he crashed into Atwood Jr., killing him instantly. 

The crash report revealed Maggett was driving, once again, without insurance. He was also not wearing a seat belt and carrying an unrestrained 6-year-old child in the back seat, according to the report. An adult passenger in his vehicle told police that Maggett had fallen asleep at the wheel. No blood toxicology was performed.

"The loss of Mr. Atwood is a profound shame, and our hearts go out to his family," said Maggett's attorney Marty McAfee. "Mr. Maggett will go to court to face these charges. Mr. Maggett and his family hope the truth will bring this matter to rest."

The case has spurred Tennessee lawmakers to reform Tennessee's financial responsibility law by proposing an insurance verification program and beefing up penalties for violating the law. The law has mandated that Tennessee drivers carry auto liability insurance since 1977.

The changes to the law, in their current form, would:

* Raise the misdemeanor fine for violating Tennessee's financial responsibility (proof of insurance) law from $100 to $250.

* Create a statewide insurance verification program that would track down uninsured drivers through their vehicle registrations.

* Allow county clerks to suspend a driver's registration if the driver does not comply with the financial responsibility law and assess a $300 reinstatement fee.

* Give Tennessee police departments the discretion to tow the vehicles of drivers cited for violation of the financial responsibility law.

"We're looking at 30 to 40 percent of the claims that we see (in Shelby County) having been uninsured motorists claims, with the uninsured driver at fault," said Memphis independent insurance agent Bennita Wade. According to PropertyCasualty360.com, Tennessee is sixth in the nation for the number of uninsured drivers. 23 percent of Tennessee's drivers -- approximately one million -- are uninsured, and they contribute to 40,000 accidents a year, according to TN Rep. William Lamberth, (R) Sumner County, one of the chief sponsors of the proposal.

One of Wade's policy-holders, 23-year-old Clifton Gibbs, was killed in 2012 by an uninsured driver. The police report indicated the uninsured driver was texting when she crashed into Gibbs's car at a South Memphis intersection.

The crash prompted Gibbs's fiancee Larissa Redmond to start the Collegiate Life Investment Foundation (C.L.I.F.), a foundation that raises students' awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

Now she's raising awareness that the distracted driver who killed Gibbs was also uninsured. "She would have never been distracted or on the road if we would have had something in place here in Tennessee that would really have hindered her from driving uninsured," Redmond said.

Lawmakers hope passage of tougher penalties and a tracking system will also lower insurance premiums by expanding the insured pool and by decreasing the risks posed by uninsured drivers.

"At best, it will stop the rise of premiums," said Wade. "It would definitely give the companies an incentive and a motive to hold rates where they are (and) encourage them to look at responsible drivers and give them a break."

Despite the fact that mandatory liability insurance is already required of all Tennessee drivers -- and despite WMC Action News 5 calling out specific and sometimes chronic violators of the law -- some of our viewers have been hostile toward the proposal in their posts on WMC Action News 5's Facebook page.

One viewer posted that the proposal is "...BS that has nothing to do with safty (sic)..."

Another posted that poor people would have to choose "...either food, baby stuff or light bill over this..."

"It's the law, and it has been for years," said Redmond. "Until you lose somebody -- until this issue really affects you -- you really don't understand the dynamic of how important it is."

The full Tennessee House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the proposal 9 a.m. Thursday, April 16.

Maggett's trial date has not yet been scheduled.

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