A judge found enough probable cause Thursday afternoon to send the case of a man investigators say caused the crash that killed the son of a Knoxville fire captain to the grand jury.
Franco Francisco-Eduardo, 44, was charged with criminally negligent homicide in the death of Pierce Corcoran, son of Knoxville Fire Department Capt. D.J. Corcoran.
Thursday’s preliminary hearing had been delayed for a week after his attorney argued he had not had time to prepare for the hearing because Francisco-Eduardo had only been returned from an ICE facility the night before. His bond was revoked to ensure he stayed in Knox County custody until then.
Prosecutors say Francisco-Eduardo is in the United States illegally.
Judge Patricia Hall Long said in 10 years on the bench, she’d never heard a case quite like this one. She said it’s not typical or straightforward because speeding, alcohol and drugs were not factors.
According to the investigation, a Chevrolet pickup truck was traveling north on Chapman Highway on December 29 when it crossed into the southbound lanes of traffic striking a Honda Civic that was traveling south on Chapman Highway, which resulted in a chain reaction crash.
Witness Jordan Barnes was in the right lane on Chapman Highway going toward Gatlinburg that night. Corcoran was driving in the left lane, going in the same direction a little ahead of Barnes. When Francisco-Eduardo’s pickup came into the wrong lane of traffic, hitting Corcoran head-on, Barnes says he couldn’t avoid running into Corcoran’s car.
“There’s really no margin of error. When something happens on Chapman Highway, there’s nowhere to go,” said Eduardo’s attorney Mark Stephens.
Stephens argued that a lack of a turning lane, shoulders and a median along most of Chapman Highway was a big factor in the tragedy. However, the prosecution argued that Eduardo could have avoided the accident.
“The defendant could have and should have put on his brakes and stayed in his lane of traffic or swerved to the right,” said prosecutor Rachel Russell.
According to the investigation, there were no vehicles in the right lane.
Much of Thursday’s testimony focused on whether there was time for the southbound drivers or Eduardo to react.
“You can see from the video there are multiple vehicles coming at him in the other lane of traffic. And I would say it appears from the video all of them had their headlights on. It’s the state’s position that he should have seen those vehicles, that he should have known there was traffic on the other side of that highway,” said Russell.
Eduardo’s attorney argued the case should be dropped and handled in civil court.
“This was a car accident, and I dare say there’s not a person in this courtroom that hasn’t been in a situation where somebody has stopped in front of them or some body has run out in front of them and they react,” said Stephens.
While the judge ultimately went with the district attorney’s recommendation, the judge acknowledged it isn’t a clear-cut decision.
“Is it the state’s position that there’s negligence in any accident that results in a fatality that could be a criminally negligent homicide?” asked Judge Long.
There is still some confusion about what to do with Francisco-Eduardo’s bond. A hearing is set for next week.
Corcoran’s parents met with Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn this week urging political leaders to put their differences aside and agree to fund a border wall.
BREAKING: Judge finds enough probable cause to send Franco Francisco-Eduardo’s criminally negligent homicide charge to a grand jury. #WATE @6News
Before making decision, she acknowledged uniqueness of case, saying “In 10 years on the bench, I’ve never had a hearing like this..”— Blake Stevens (@bstevensnews) January 17, 2019