Local News

May 27, 2014

Varnell police officer placed on leave

A Varnell Police officer involved in a wreck that injured another man on Cleveland Highway last week has been placed on administrative leave, Police Chief Lyle Grant said on Tuesday.

Grant would not comment further, saying an open records request would need to be filed with City Clerk Pam Garrison. A response to that request had not been sent by Garrison as of Tuesday afternoon.

John Patrick Hayes was driving his patrol car south in the right-hand lane on Cleveland Highway near Broadacre Road when he attempted a U-turn, striking a car in the left-hand southbound lane, according to a report from the Georgia State Patrol.

According to the report, Hayes “made an improper turn in front of” the other vehicle. Hayes was given a warning by the state patrol for making an improper turn.

The patrol car struck a Jeep Cherokee driven by David Gambrell of Dalton, who was not wearing his seat belt, the report states. The Jeep rolled three times, ejecting Gambrell, it states.

According to the report, the Jeep came to “a final uncontrolled rest approximately 123 feet on its roof facing north in the central turn lane.” Gambrell was approximately 71 feet from the Jeep in the right northbound lane of Cleveland Highway.

Gambrell was airlifted by Life Force to Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga with a spinal injury, the report states. Hayes was not injured.

A post on the Varnell Police Department’s Facebook page says, “To dispel rumors there was a traffic accident involving a patrol car yesterday evening 05/21/2014 the driver of the of the [sic] Jeep was injured but is expected a full recovery. There were no high speeds, in fact the patrol car was traveling less than 20 mph, the Jeep was at the speed limit or less. Our prayers are with both parties.”

A phone number for Hayes could not be found. A spokeswoman for Erlanger said Gambrell’s name was not listed as a patient. Reasons for it not being listed could be that he has been discharged or he has asked to keep his condition confidential, she said.

This is the second wreck involving an officer with the Varnell Police Department within the last few years. Former officer James Smith pleaded guilty in July 2013 to first degree vehicular homicide and reckless driving for a wreck where he was driving his patrol car at 104 mph on Cleveland Highway. He collided with a Dodge Neon driven by 70-year-old Leon Thurman, killing Thurman. Smith was sentenced to 10 years probation, a $2,500 fine, 300 hours of community service and a lifetime ban on working in law enforcement.

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