JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — A man who led Tusculum police on a 22-mile chase before crashing into another car in late 2021, killing the driver, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by reckless conduct Tuesday and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Christian Morrow, now 23, was driving at a high rate of speed on West Market Street in Johnson City when he lost control near the Sonic Drive-In just after midnight Dec. 4, 2021. His car crossed one eastbound lane and smashed into the rear of a car A Pearson, a recent East Tennessee State University (ETSU) graduate, was driving.
Pearson, whose car ended up in a ditch, was killed instantly and pronounced dead at the scene.
“My client accepted responsibility for his actions and his part in the episode that occurred — very unfortunate and I know he’s remorseful,” Assistant Public Defender Bill Francisco, Morrow’s attorney in the case, told News Channel 11.
“He’s going to serve his sentence, and he’ll live with this the rest of his life.”
That sentence could have been as low as three years or, depending on mitigating factors, as high as 15. The six-year sentence came due to Morrow being what Judge Stacy Street called “a standard 30% offender.”
Morrow was reportedly going 104 miles per hour late Dec. 3 when the Volvo sedan he was driving passed Tusculum Police Department Officer Jason Weems near the west end of the Tusculum town limits. Weems’s chief, Danny Greene, soon joined the chase that ended up passing through four jurisdictions.
The only thing dispatchers from other jurisdictions were reportedly told was that TPD was pursuing based on the speeding and a subsequent evading arrest. Despite losing sight of Morrow after traveling through downtown Jonesborough’s two-lane Main Street, the officers continued the chase into west Johnson City.
Morrow came up on two vehicles near one another in both lanes of West Market Street, tried to get around them in the turn lane and hit a median, losing control and within seconds Pearson was dead. Morrow received minor injuries.
Scholarship, award memorialize Pearson
Pearson, who like Morrow was 21 when the crash occurred, was a budding filmmaker who also worked at the Johnson City Public Library.
Shara Lange, a professor and one of A’s mentors at ETSU, said the sudden loss of Pearson remains difficult.
“Every time we think about this incident it’s heartbreaking, and mostly my thoughts are with the family,” Lange said. “It’s really a sad reminder of losing A.”
With the help of A’s parents, ETSU has established an A Pearson Memorial Scholarship available to film students for up to two years. Amanda Snead, a student who is finishing her studies this semester, was the scholarship’s first recipient.
The university’s film studies program has also included A’s work in its archive, which Lange said includes “insightful, meaningful student work, and that will be there forever.”
And ETSU named its “Vital, Voice and Vision” award for Pearson. That award is presented at the annual 52 Film Festival, which occurs March 3-5 this year.
“It’s for a film that has essential, vital, important vision and has something to say, and that was definitely A,” Lange said.
Lange said last year that Pearson’s work focused on the region’s LGBTQ community in nuanced ways.
“What A was really interested in was these really intimate, beautiful moments, these sort of precious, gentle, caring moments between friends — these important moments in these characters’ lives,” Lange said.
“We really believed in what A was doing and the importance of A’s work, so we’re really glad to honor A in that little way,” she said Tuesday.
Pearson’s parents and sister were at the hearing but did not want to make any comment or statement.
Morrow still faces charges in Greene County related to the same night. They include driving on a revoked license (second or subsequent offense) and evading arrest with risk of death or injury (vehicle involved). A jury trial is scheduled for May 10 in that case.