Meigs deadly wreck makes case for 'no refusal' holiday crackdown
MEIGS COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- Virginia Faye Banther and her husband Price had expected to start their Labor Day holiday weekend Friday, shopping for the perfect RV to launch a retirement journey across the Southwest.
He was waiting for her to get home to Cleveland Thursday evening, from her job as a materials handler at TVA's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant.
"She's never late," he tells Eyewitness News off-camera. "She wouldn't answer her phone either."
So he retraced her route up Highway 58. He wasn't prepared for what he'd find in Decatur.
"They wouldn't even let me get close," he says.
"It was very bad," Decatur Fire Chief Eddie Jewell says. "We had to have a lot of help getting here. A factory had let out and we couldn't get through traffic."
'Faye', 61, was trapped in her new Toyota Camry, after an SUV had crossed into her lane, hit her car head-on, and flipped it into a ditch."
"We had a complicated, extensive extrication," Chief Jewell says.
All five persons in the SUV are in Knoxville-area hospitals. Three are children younger than age 12. The Tennessee Highway Patrol reports charges are pending against the driver, Stephanie Delashmitt and friend, Erin Nelson, depending on what drug tests reveal.
Nelson is listed in serious condition, Delashmitt in stable condition, at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
But Faye Banther, a mother of two, grandmother to six, is gone.
"We were married 43 years," Price Banther says. "When I got called up to Vietnam, she saved money that I sent home, so we'd have something when I got back."
"She was always working."
Regardless of what we're doing, it (the death toll) just seems to keep going up," says Trooper Jennie Hammock, of THP's Chattanooga post.
Last Labor Day weekend, twelve people died on Tennessee roads. Alcohol contributed to two of those deaths. Eight of those killed were in single-vehicle wrecks.
"We are catching more impaired drivers," Trooper Hammock says. "I don't know whether it's an increase in population, or more are drinking."
Tuesday, "Hands Across the Border" brought together law officers in Tennessee and Northwest Georgia for a sobriety checkpoint on Rossville Boulevard.
But even before August began, Tennessee had recorded 3557 arrests for 'impaired' driving this year alone; 800 more than January 1-July 31 last year.
But this weekend, the THP's Safety & Sobriety checkpoints are moving to the roads most traveled, and most risky, in the outlying areas of Meigs, McMinn, Marion and Rhea counties.
Cameras mounted in troopers' cruisers will record every field sobriety check.
And thanks to a change in Tennessee law July 1, a blood-alcohol test is an offer you can't refuse.
"If you refuse to sign the implied consent ,we'll get you before a magistrate and get a search warrant," Trooper Hammock says.
Hammock did not work the wreck that killed Faye Banther. But she understands the pain.
"It plays like a film in your mind," she says. "You remember almost every one of these you work, especially when there's a fatality."
"I can't place blame," Price Banther says.
"That's something for the law, and her (Delashmitt) to decide. It won't bring her back."
"I can't place blame," Price Banther says, of the wreck that left him a widower.