- [S106] The Mountain Press, 28 Jun 2011.
Teaster apologizes to Chesney family
by JEFF FARRELL
SEVIERVILLE — Wesley Teaster apologized to the family of Jeremy Chesney Monday for the wreck that took the life of his friend and fellow coach, and spoke about the toll the accident and its aftermath has taken on him.
Teaster, his parents, his grandmother — Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster — and a forensic psychologist also talked about the wide-ranging toll the wreck has taken on him.
In the Aug. 4. 2008, wreck, Teaster flipped his Jeep on Kingfisher Avenue in Sevierville. He and Chesney, a passenger in the Jeep, were thrown from the vehicle. Chesney died at the scene; Teaster was airlifted to The University of Tennessee Medical Center with a broken back and nerve damage to his right arm that persists to this day.
He would eventually plead guilty to vehicular homicide by reckless driving. There had been evidence that he had been drinking, including a test that showed he had a blood-alcohol content of .10 more than two hours after the accident. However, the prosecution acknowledged a number of problems with that evidence, including the fact that state law called for such tests to be administered within two hours of an accident. Chesney’s BAC was .08 after the wreck.
On Monday, Teaster testified as part of a hearing before Judge Ben Hooper on whether he violated the terms of his probation from the vehicular homicide charge by taking drugs and committing traffic violations. Hooper found that he did, and sentenced him to spend 90 days in the Sevier County Jail before resuming his probation.
With both Chesney’s parents in the gallery, Teaster took the chance to apologize for the wreck.
“I’ve wanted to tell you sorry for a long time, but I’ve had civil matters and I’ve been advised not to,” Teaster said as tears flowed down his face. Members of his family and Chesney’s family sobbed as he spoke about the wreck from the stand.
Chesney’s family filed a civil suit against Teaster and his family; that suit has since been settled.
“You know me. That was an accident and I promise you, I promise you ... I would trade places in a heartbeat.”
He said he and Chesney immediately became friends when Chesney came to Pigeon Forge High School as an assistant baseball coach.
He also acknowledged what his parents, grandmother and a forensic psychologist said — that he is depressed and having problems dealing with the wreck, especially since he voluntarily stopped using prescription painkillers against the recommendation of his physician.
“I’m lost,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”
It’s been difficult to go out in public, he said, because everyone knows about the wreck. “You walk in a room, it feels like everybody’s looking at you.”
A forensic psychologist, James Murray, said Teaster is suffering depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from the wreck. Murray also said Teaster appeared to be a good candidate for treatment because he’s acknowledging his problems and looking to get better.
Teaster’s parents, Steve and Leeann Teaster, said he has been severely depressed since the wreck, spending much of his time in his room. “I know you lost a son that day,” Steve Teaster said, looking at the Chesney family, “But I lost a part of my son that day.”
They said that coverage of his case by the media, and in particular The Mountain Press, has made his situation more difficult.
Earlene Teaster said she believed the case wouldn’t have received so much coverage if Teaster weren’t her grandson. “People never knew if he had a mother or father, but they knew he had a grandmother — Earlene Teaster, city manager of Pigeon Forge.”
She said she has stayed away from court — Monday was the first time she’s been in court for any of the proceedings — because she didn’t want to appear to be trying to influence the judge. “We have never asked for anything special for Wesley,” she said.
Hooper said he’d never been contacted outside the court “directly or indirectly” by the Teaster family or the Chesney family.
Teaster’s parents and grandmother all said they were worried that he’s become depressed to the point that he could harm himself. They said he was happiest when he was still an assistant coach at Pigeon Forge High School, something Earlene Teaster said was taken away from him became of the media coverage. “He was going to go back (to coach again), but the newspaper bugged them so much about that, they took that away from him,” she said.
Defense attorney Bryan Delius at one point asked a probation officer if coverage of the case by The Mountain Press forced the office to file the initial violation of probation charge against Teaster. However, the official said they filed the charge because he was alleged to have left the scene of an accident and the original charge for which he was on probation involved a traffic fatality.
Several probation officials testified that they hadn’t heard about the allegation that Teaster left the scene of an accident until they were contacted by The Mountain Press. The citation for that charge was processed at the Pigeon Forge Police Department and the probation office only reviews charges filed at the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office. It is not unusual for Pigeon Forge police to cite people at the department without taking them to jail when the charges are not serious. The charge of failure to leave the scene of an accident was a misdemeanor and didn’t require that Teaster be arrested.
Hooper gave Chesney’s mother, Lisa Chesney, the chance to speak about the case after he made his decision. She said people think she’s just angry, but that’s not the case. “It’s not anger, it’s devastation,” she said.
The judge ruled that Teaster will serve 90 days in the Sevier County Jail, starting today for violating the terms of his probation. But Teaster remains eligible for judicial deferral, meaning he can have his record expunged if he can remain out of trouble after getting out of jail.
Hooper said he did that so that Teaster could see there was still hope that he could get his life back on track. “I’m going to continue that opportunity,” he said. “You say you’re lost. Find yourself.”
He noted Teaster’s family and psychologist said his recent self-destructive actions could be a cry for help, that he was trying to punish himself.
“Maybe 90 days will be more benefit to you than you’ll ever, ever imagine.”
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 5 Jan 2010.
Teaster deferral OK’d; coach can have felony removed from record
Circuit Judge Ben Hooper listens to testimony from Lisa Chesney while photos of her son, Jeremy Chesney, are on display beside him. (Curt Habraken/The Mountain Press) Lisa Chesney testifies about the loss of her son, Jeremy Chesney, in Monday’s sentencing hearing for Wesley Glenn Teaster, Chesney’s fellow Pigeon Forge baseball coach who pleaded guilty to causing his death. Wesley Teaster listens to the court proceedings on Monday.
By JEFF FARRELL
SEVIERVILLE — If he completes the terms of his five-year probation, Pigeon Forge volunteer baseball coach Wesley Glenn Teaster can have a felony conviction for causing the death of fellow coach Jeremy Chesney removed from his record.
Circuit Judge Ben Hooper granted defense attorney Bryan Delius’s request for a deferral Monday after listening to emotional testimony from Chesney’s parents.
Hooper indicated that the law supported the suspended five-year sentence issued as part of Teaster’s plea agreement with prosecutors, and that it also supported a judicial deferral, which gives Teaster the chance to have his criminal record expunged if he doesn’t violate probation.
“Without a doubt, I think Mr. and Mrs. Chesney are opposed to judicial deferral,” Hooper said.
However, he said he believed appellate courts would rule against a different verdict or sentence.
“I suspect the Chesney family wouldn’t have been all that pleased with how the case was resolved, but I think I can safely say if it was resolved any other way it would not have survived appeal,” he said.
Last month, Teaster pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by reckless conduct in the Aug. 4, 2008, wreck that left Chesney dead and sent Teaster to the hospital.
Teaster had been charged with being under the influence, but that charge was dropped as part of the plea agreement.
Chesney’s parents told the judge about the devastating toll of losing their only child.
“Jeremy was more than my son,” John Chesney said. “He was my best friend.”
The two of them shared a love of sports, he said, and his greatest joy was seeing his son play baseball.
“Since his death, I have no joy .,, I will never see the man Jeremy would have grown into.”
Lisa Chesney choked back sobs as she displayed pictures of her son and described his personality. He was outgoing, she said, always smiling and encouraging others to make people smile.
“That was his legacy,” she said.
She also described the hopelessness she’s faced without him.
“My only hope is my days here on Earth are short indeed,” she said.
She asked Hooper, before he made his ruling, what the verdict and the sentence would tell other people.
“What is the message if you take a life behind the wheel and all you get is a slap on the wrist?” she asked.
A blood sample taken from Teaster showed he had a blood-alcohol content of .10, according to court officials Monday. That sample, however, would not have been admissible in court.
It was drawn two and a half hours after the accident; under state law at the time of the arrest, the sample should have been drawn no more than two hours after the accident.
The law has since been changed, dropping the time limit.
Delius had also called the sample into question because Teaster, who is diabetic, had his insulin pump ripped from his body in the wreck. Delius said that could have caused a discrepancy in the sample.
Finally, tests ordered by the defense showed the blood sample didn’t contain the drugs administered to Teaster as medical personnel tended to his injuries.
Delius had a private investigator, Thomas Hamm, tell the judge what he’d learned.
Hamm said people living in the area near the wreck, including the owners of the yard where the Jeep came to rest, said wrecks were common there.
He also told the judge the neighbors said Teaster was asking about Chesney at the scene.
Hamm said emergency and medical personnel he interviewed told him they didn’t detect an odor of alcohol from Teaster, but did from Chesney.
Delius presented character letters from Teaster’s pastor, and offered several mitigating factors for the judge to consider in making his ruling.
“He has acknowledged to the court that his actions caused the death of his dear friend,” Delius said.
Special prosecutor Steve Garrett didn’t offer any enhancing factors.
Hooper took time to praise Garrett’s work, saying he believed the resolution was the only one that wold have satisfied an appellate court.
“Hopefully, the Chesneys won’t feel short-changed by the representative of the state of Tennessee,” Hooper said.
Garrett oversaw the prosecution of the case at the request of District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn, whose office ordinarily would have handled the case. Dunn’s office accepts funding from Sevier County and each of the cities in the county, including Pigeon Forge; Teaster’s grandmother is Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster.
- [S58] Marriage Certificate.
TEASTER, STEVEN RAY WATSON, DAINA LIANE 1985-04-12
- [S35] The Official Marriage Records of Sevier County Tennessee 1982 - 1987, Volume V, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (Copyright 2009), ISBN 1-890150-00-7.