Todd A. Mathes
In Crash Death
Of John Robinette
By BILL JONES
A Greene County man was sentenced in Criminal Court here on Nov. 26 to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and other charges related to a Dec. 23, 2007, police pursuit situation in which John F. Robinette, another motorist, was killed.
According to court records, Third Judicial District Criminal Court Judge John Dugger Jr. accepted guilty pleas from Todd Andrew Mathes, 37, of 1520 Nolichuckey Road, on Nov. 26 after Mathes entered a "best interest" plea.
In addition to vehicular homicide, court records indicate, Mathes pleaded guilty on Nov. 26 under a plea agreement to charges of theft over $1,000, theft under $500, and evading arrest.
Mathes agreed to a 10-year sentence on the vehicular homicide charge and a two-year sentence on the other charges. The sentences are to be served at the same time, resulting in an effective sentence of 10 years, according to court records.
Last September, Judge Dugger had refused to accept another plea agreement that would have set Mathes' sentence at eight years in prison. He did so after Vonda Robinette, widow of the late John Robinette, objected in court to the proposed sentence.
But court records indicate that Mrs. Robinette signed a written recommendation that the court accept the new plea agreement and the proposed 10-year sentence.
Under state law, Mathes will be eligible for release on parole after he completes 30 percent of the prison sentence.
The vehicular homicide and other charges resulted from a Dec. 23, 2007, incident in which Mathes allegedly stole a sport utility vehicle from a Nolichuckey Road woman and later stole a 12-pack of beer from the BP market on Van Hill road in Baileyton.
He led a sheriff's deputy on a high-speed pursuit along Baileyton Road before the SUV passed a Greeneville Police Department patrol car near the intersection of Baileyton Road and the U.S. 11E access ramp in Greeneville and collided with another vehicle, fatally injuring its driver, Robinette.
An arrest warrant filed last March by Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Wise charged Mathes with vehicular homicide in connection with the Dec. 23, 2007, death of Robinette, 65, a resident of Mosheim.
Robinette had been delivering the Knoxville News-Sentinel newspaper at the time of the fatal collision.
"On Dec. 23, 2007, at approximately 5 a.m., a 1999 Nissan Pathfinder driven by Todd Mathes struck a passenger vehicle driven by Robinette, causing Mr. Robinette's death," Trooper Wise wrote in the March arrest warrant.
Trooper Wise said in March that a blood test performed after the accident showed Mathes was intoxicated at the time of the collision.
"A blood test was done to determine the drug and alcohol content of his blood," Trooper Wise said. "His blood alcohol content came back at .14." That blood-alcohol level is nearly twice the legal limit of .08 under Tennessee law.
The fatal accident occurred at the end of a pursuit along Baileyton Road (Tennessee Highway 172) that began in Baileyton in the early morning hours of Dec. 23.
Deputy Sheriff Jeff Caudill said at the wreck scene that morning that he had begun pursuing the white Nissan Pathfinder from Baileyton after seeing it cross the Interstate 81 bridge on Baileyton Road at a high rate of speed.
Deputy Caudill said that during the pursuit, which ended in the fatal collision in Greeneville, the fleeing SUV avoided two attempts by law-enforcement officers to stop it by flattening its tires with the use of "spike strips" on the road.
Caudill said that he did not actually see the collision between the fleeing Nissan Pathfinder and the Ford Taurus sedan because a Greeneville Police Department vehicle was in front of his patrol car at the time.
But he said the fleeing SUV was apparently driving in the left lane of two-lane Baileyton Road at the time it broad-sided Robinette's green sedan, which may have been attempting to turn onto the West Andrew Johnson Highway access ramp.
The collision sent the green sedan into a grassy area off the left side of Baileyton Road near the access ramp.
The white Nissan Pathfinder went off the right side of Baileyton Road and came to rest against an embankment.
Beer Reported Taken
While following the vehicle, Deputy Caudill said, he noticed that its rear license plate was obscured, and he learned via radio that the vehicle's occupants were believed to have been involved in either a robbery or a theft of merchandise at a Baileyton convenience store.
Deputy Sheriff Howard Gale, who was serving as dispatcher at Sheriff's Department headquarters, said he received a call from the BP Market on Van Hill Road in Baileyton which reported that a male suspect had left the store without paying for a 12-pack of beer and had fled in a white sport-utility vehicle.
The Nissan Pathfinder SUV, Deputy Gale said, later was determined to have been taken without permission from a Nolichuckey Road residence shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday.