February 1, 2013

Former Varnell officer pleads not guilty to homicide charge

Rachel Brown

— James Smith, the former Varnell police officer who authorities say crashed his patrol car into a newspaper carrier’s vehicle last March, killing the carrier, pleaded not guilty to first degree vehicular homicide and reckless driving on Thursday.

Smith and his attorney, Ralph Hinman, declined comment after a brief appearance before Judge Cindy Morris at the Whitfield County Courthouse. Smith is scheduled for trial March 11.

The family of Leon Thurman, a contract newspaper carrier for The Daily Citizen, sued the city of Varnell in Superior Court for $750,000 after Smith crashed his patrol vehicle into Thurman’s Dodge Neon in the early hours of March 5 while Thurman was delivering papers. The case was eventually settled.

Varnell Police Chief Lyle Grant has said an internal investigation showed Smith violated several department policies during the incident, including speeding while not on an emergency call. Smith resigned before the Georgia State Patrol’s investigation was complete.

Thurman’s family members said they are astounded at the not guilty plea and fully expect the evidence to show Smith was at fault.