Defendants’ statements: Six agreed not to tell about hitting the scooter
By Shavonne Potts
In statements made to authorities, three defendants charged in the death of scooter rider Michael Jason Brown say the six young adults charged in the case agreed to keep quiet two years ago about hitting Brown.
According to their statements, the six, who had been drinking and were looking for targets to egg, decided to throw eggs at Brown. They were traveling on U.S. 52 in the opposite direction as the scooter when the scooter collided with the group’s sport utility vehicle. They stopped for a few seconds and then drove away.
Brandon Heathcliff Lowery, 23, Alstin Lee Vanderford, 21, Patsy Elizabeth Morgan, 21, Rachel Ann Miller, 21, Derek Ryan Talbert, 23, and Eric Gregory Taylor, 21, were charged in Brown’s May 2006 death.
Brown’s death was originally classified as accidental, but the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office reopened the case and had his body exhumed in January 2007 after developing new information. In early February 2007, the teens turned themselves in to authorities.
All were indicted in January 2007 on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and fleeing the scene of an accident.
But in June, Rowan District Attorney Bill Kenerly filed a plea agreement with defendants Miller, Morgan and Talbert. Kenerly agreed to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge and reduce the other felony charge to “some appropriate misdemeanor” in exchange for Miller, Morgan and Talbert’s “truthful testimony” against Taylor, Vanderford and Lowery.
This month, Vanderford’s attorney, James Davis, and Taylor’s attorney, Darrin Jordan, filed a motion requesting any documents, reports or evidence relating to any “deals or inducements” offered to any witnesses in the case.
Since then, the statements that Vanderford, Taylor and Lowery gave investigators also have been placed in the court file.
On July 7, a grand jury indicted Lowery and Vanderford on a charge of felony aiding and abetting felonious hit and run/failure to remain at the scene. Court documents identify Taylor as the SUV’s driver that night, one of the few points on which the defendants’ statements agree.
The trial is set for Aug. 18.
Kenerly is out of town until Monday, his office said, and was not available to discuss the indictments or plea agreement.
Here is a summary of the three statements filed:
– Brandon Lowery says he, Talbert and Taylor went to Kayla Beasley’s house. (Vanderford and Taylor identify the teen as Kayla Brown in their statements). Court documents do not connect Beasley/Brown with the case in any other way.
While there, Vanderford kept paging everyone in the group, saying his house had been egged and he wanted to go out to do the same.
All six went to Wal-Mart where they bought eggs. They threw the eggs at a couple of houses, Lowery says.
He’s not sure who spotted Brown on the scooter.
They pulled in behind him initially. They then passed him and turned around to come toward him on U.S. 52. Lowery says Rachel Miller sat in the front seat, and he sat behind her. Vanderford sat behind Taylor, the driver. He doesn’t say where Patsy Morgan and Derek Talbert were riding.
Lowery admits to having to open a door to throw an egg because the window would not roll down. He said he and Vanderford threw eggs that landed in front of the scooter.
He says the scooter came into their lane of travel, and Taylor tried to avoid the rider.
They all heard the “thud,” but for several seconds, no one said anything. Taylor stopped the car in the middle of the road for a few seconds. Vanderford then suggested they leave because they all had records, he says.
Lowery says no one got out or looked behind the car to check the scooter driver. Instead, they went back to Kayla Brown’s house.
No one came forward, Lowery said, because “no one wanted to be the one to come forward.”
They were worried about throwing eggs at houses and “some of them had been drinking.” Lowery and Talbert were 21 at the time and the only ones who could legally consume alcohol.
Lowery was not sure if Taylor had been drinking but was certain Talbert and Vanderford had.
He says he didn’t think anything had happened to the scooter rider at the time of the crash. “We all agreed not to talk about it,” Lowery says.
Investigators interviewed Lowery in November and December 2006, according to the court documents.
He says Taylor and Vanderford had the idea to egg the scooter. “It was their idea to go after it,” he says.
He recalls feeling the bump when the scooter hit the vehicle. They started to panic.
“I’m pretty sure Alstin (Vanderford) said that we needed to get out of here,” he says.
They got rid of the eggs at Kayla Brown’s house but kept the beer. When they all talked about the incident and how scared they were, Lowery says Vanderford said, “I hope the guy dies so he won’t talk.”
“That’s basically what he said,” Lowery adds.
They checked the Jeep for damages.
Lowery believes the scooter rider was trying to scare Taylor by coming into his lane.
“He was dead set in coming straight at us,” and Lowery says the scooter ran into the corner of the vehicle.
He’s not sure if they had open containers of beer in the car.
“I don’t know what we were thinking. This whole incident was extremely stupid,” Lowery says.
A phone call to Lowery’s attorney, James Randolph of Salisbury, was not immediately returned. His office said he was sick Wednesday.
– Eric Taylor, the driver, admits throwing eggs along with Vanderford and Lowery.
Also, “the people in the back tried to throw eggs at the guy on the Moped when we passed him,” he says. Taylor recalled that Lowery, Talbert, Morgan and Miller were in the back seat of the jeep.
“The two guys (Lowery and Talbert) threw eggs out of the left side rear window,” he says.
“… I saw a light (the Moped) coming at me. I felt something hit my car,” he says.
Taylor says he did not stop and, instead, took everyone to Brown’s home, so they could get their cars.
Taylor says he returned to the scene later, saw lights and an ambulance, got “freaked out” and went home.
He adds he didn’t tell anyone he’d gone back to the wreck scene.
However, in the same statement he also says he returned to the scene with the two girls ó Morgan and Miller.
Taylor said everyone kept quiet because they didn’t want to get him, as the driver, in trouble.
Taylor claims they all drank beer at Brown’s house, though it’s not clear if they drank before or after the accident.
Taylor says there were no drugs or alcohol in the car.
Throwing eggs at houses was not new to the group. Taylor says they’d egged and “rolled” houses before, but it was usually between friends.
They’d egged the home of Lauren McCombs that same night, though he doesn’t say if McCombs was a friend.
He says he’s pretty certain Vanderford was in the front seat with him the whole night, contradicting Lowery.
During an October 2006 interview with investigators, Taylor does not name Lowery and Vanderford but mentions Talbert, Miller and Morgan by name.
On Wednesday, Darrin Jordan, Taylor’s attorney, said, “We’re getting ready for the trial. We don’t want to add fuel to the fire.”
– Alstin Vanderford also contradicts Taylor on the seating arrangements that night.
Vanderford says he was sitting behind the driver’s seat. He says Miller was in the front passenger seat. Talbert sat beside Vanderford and Lowery sat behind Miller. Morgan sat on the floorboard between Talbert’s feet.
Vanderford says they pulled up beside the scooter and that only Taylor and Lowery threw eggs.
“I did not throw an egg,” he says.
He says the incident happened around 2 a.m. After turning around near Sides Road, he says they saw the scooter’s headlights over the hill.
“The light was in the middle of the road and went towards us into our lane,” Vanderford says.
He says Taylor tried to get out of the way, “slowed down and jerked the wheel.”
They all heard the crash. Vanderford admits to looking back but says he “could not see anything.”
Once they returned to Kayla Brown’s house, he and Taylor checked the car for any damage, to be “absolutely sure we didn’t do anything wrong. We wanted to make sure,” Vanderford says.
He confirmed that the girls, Morgan and Miller, returned to the scene. One of the girls later told the others the scooter driver had wrecked.
Taylor drank “maybe” one beer, says Vanderford, while admitting he had eight to 10. Both drank before they encountered the scooter.
He says he didn’t come forward because he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong.
Investigators interviewed Vanderford on Oct. 27, 2006, with his attorney, Salisbury’s James Davis, present.
“I can say we look forward to a trial on the merits,” Davis said Wednesday.