6 teens charged with manslaughter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts

Salisbury Post

A Rowan County grand jury indicted five former East Rowan High students and another teen Monday, accusing them of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in the death of a China Grove man killed while riding his moped.

The grand jury indicted the following on involuntary manslaughter and duty of passenger to remain at the scene of an accident. They are:

* Brandon Heathcliff Lowery,

* Rachel Ann Miller,

* Derek Ryan Talbert,

* Patsy Elizabeth Morgan and

* Alstin Lee Vanderford.

Eric Gregory Taylor was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter as well as felonious hit and run/failure to remain at the scene.

Taylor is named as the driver in the indictment and thus faces charges different from the others.

The indictment said the teens “unlawfully and feloniously did kill and slay” Michael Jason Brown.

Brown, 27, of Lentz Road, China Grove, was riding his motorized scooter on U.S. 52 between Granite Quarry and Rockwell where he died May 12 at the scene.

A petition was recently filed to have his body exhumed because an autopsy was not performed at the time of his death.

According to the petition, Brown was struck by a vehicle going in the opposite direction.

Initially, the N.C. Highway Patrol concluded that Brown’s death was an accident. Relatives questioned the report, though, and in November, Rowan County Sheriff George Wilhelm said his office had opened an investigation into the death.

The indictment also says the defendants named did unlawfully: “being a passenger in a vehicle who knows or reasonably should know that the vehicle in which he is a passenger was involved in an accident or collision resulting in injury or death to another person, did facilitate, allow, or agree to the removal of the vehicle from the scene prior to the completion of the investigation of the collision by a law enforcement officer. This removal of the vehicle was for a purpose other than to call for a law enforcement officer, to call for medical assistance, or to remove his self from significant risk of injury. This violation was committed willfully and the collision involved the death of another person.”

An indictment issued for Taylor says he failed to remain at the scene of an accident and collision in which he was involved until law enforcement arrived. It goes on to say that he knew and reasonably should have known that the vehicle he was operating was involved in the accident and collision resulting in the death of Michael Brown.

Investigators have not formally arrested the teens, but expect them, accompanied by their attorneys, to turn themselves in by this weekend. Most are away at universities and colleges.

In a June article in the Post, Miller said she planned to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, major in biology and attend optometry school.

In May, she was named a Rowan County Scholar and received various academic accolades while in high school.

Miller was a cheerleader and member of Sigma Phi Gamma, Junior Civitans, Student Government Association and SADD.

She also was a Junior Marshal, Civitan Scholar and part of the N.C. Association of Student Councils Hall of Fame.

Talbert played basketball at East Rowan along with Taylor and Vanderford.

Talbert’s mother, Gina, who was a former East Rowan women’s basketball coach, had no comment.

A phone call by a Post reporter to Taylor’s mother, Jackie, a member of East Rowan’s guidance staff, was not immediately returned.

A phone call to the Vanderford residence by a Post reporter was not returned as well.

Vanderford, 19, is a criminal justice major at Phieffer University. He was an all-time leading scorer at East for basketball.

According to Vanderford’s myspace page, he says he’s very outgoing and has a lot of friends. He has 1,398 people listed on his friends page.

In an excerpt from the page that describes him, he writes that he’s “recently pretty much quit drinking except on special occasions.”

His myspace profile goes on to say that he’s found something better than drinking every night, “being close to God and not doing so many things that don’t please him.”

Officials have not said whether alcohol was involved in the accident.

A couple of friends’ comments include recent messages of support, one saying “I’m here for ya buddy,” although the messages don’t go into detail.

This is not Vanderford’s first time in legal trouble. He was convicted of ethnic intimidation in 2004 after he and three other teens, all white, drove through a Wendy’s and poured water on a clerk, who was black, and uttered racial slurs.

The teens recorded themselves plotting what they’d do and then acting on it while driving to the window. Vanderford and the other teens, at the victim’s request, were given a prayer for judgment.

Essentially a prayer for judgment means the defendant admits responsibility for the incident and can be treated as guilty by the courts but receives no formal judgment.

If another violation occurs, then that violation plus the previous one will appear on his record.

Although Vanderford was 16 when the 2004 case was heard, the conviction has not been expunged from his record and therefore could play a pivotal role in any future criminal court proceedings he enters into.

Morgan is a student at N.C. State University, which is confirmed by her myspace account. She is majoring in education. Her page includes several comments from various friends saying, “Hi.”

The other teens could not be reached for comment.

According to N.C. law, involuntary manslaughter includes an element of unlawful recklessness or negligence, in this case, an automobile accident.

Involuntary manslaughter is different from voluntary, which encompasses any death resulting from an intentional act done without malice or premeditation and while in the heat of passion or on sudden provocation.

Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts@salisburypost.com.