JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — A driver whose car allegedly rammed another vehicle at the end of a 22-mile-long December 2021 police pursuit — resulting in the other driver’s death — has been indicted for vehicular homicide.
Tusculum Police had pursued Christian James Morrow, 22, from Tusculum through Jonesborough and onto West Market Street before the crash, which occurred just after midnight Dec. 4 and reached speeds that topped 110 mph. A Pearson was driving a Scion hit by the Volvo Morrow was driving and died at the scene.
Morrow could face eight to 30 years in prison for the most serious count on which a Washington County grand jury indicted him last month — vehicular homicide while intoxicated, a class B felony. The indictment was sealed pending Morrow’s arrest, which occurred Sunday.
Mary Robinson, who worked with 22-year-old Pearson at the Johnson City Public Library (JCPL), emitted a short, humorless laugh when asked for her response to the prospect of Morrow spending years in jail.
“At least it’s something,” Robinson said. “At the end of the day, A is still gone and nothing changes that, so where I know that this may bring relief for some people, it’s just kind of, ‘OK, good, but – still lost somebody.’”
In addition to the class B felony, Morrow faces a vehicular homicide (reckless) count, which is a class C felony (three to 15-year sentencing range) and evading arrest (risk of death), a class D felony. He also faces the same evading arrest charge in Greene County where the pursuit began, as well as driving on a revoked license charges.
Morrow had bonded out of the Greene County Detention Center on those initial charges in late February.
The Washington County indictment follows a months-long investigation conducted by Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Jeremiah Downes. Morrow remains at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC), and his bond is set at $100,000.
The indictment for the evading arrest count states Morrow refused to stop for Tusculum Police Department (TPD) officers and created “a risk of death or injury to innocent bystanders, pursuing law enforcement officers or other third parties.”
That “risk” became a reality shortly after midnight on Dec. 4 when Morrow reportedly rear-ended Pearson’s car while continuing to evade police, killing Pearson, who had recently graduated as an honors student from East Tennessee State University.
The pursuit continued across multiple jurisdictions despite speeding and evading arrest (in Greene County) being the only charges for which he was being chased after he passed Officer Jason Weems on U.S. 11-E at a reported 104 miles per hour shortly before midnight on Dec. 3.
The police pursuit that killed an innocent driver
Morrow was 21 years old when he was accused of initiating the late-night pursuit with Tusculum police on East Andrew Johnson Highway on Dec. 3, 2021 by speeding past Weems. What began in Greene County made its way into Washington County in the early morning hours of Dec. 4.
Tusculum Police Department (TPD) Chief Danny Greene and Weems chased Morrow through four jurisdictions before the Volvo S70 sedan Morrow was driving collided with the rear of Pearson’s Scion near the Sonic Drive-In on West Market Street, sending the Scion into a ditch.
According to reports, Morrow had approached two vehicles in both eastbound lanes of West Market Street (11-E) when he attempted to use a turn lane to pass them with Tusculum officers still in pursuit. Instead, he hit a median at high speed and lost control, cutting across one driver before wrecking into Pearson’s car.
Morrow was injured in the wreck and was hospitalized before being transferred to a mental health facility. The deadly crash prompted News Channel 11 to investigate pursuit procedures at multiple area agencies, along with state and national statistics of pursuit deaths.
Greene, who had joined Weems in the pursuit, told News Channel 11 early this year that the TPD’s response to the incident did not violate the department’s policies and Weems was not suspended following the crash.
Months after the crash, Robinson said she believes Pearson, who identified as non-binary and used the pronouns they and them, would be angry if the tragedy had impacted someone else, “same as we all are.”
“And I mean, still so young, so a lot of fire, and I’m pretty sure at some point they’d probably be like, ‘You know, we gotta breathe, and it’ll be OK,’ but at first it’s gonna be all ‘I cannot believe this happened,’ and that’s the way we’ve all been, I think,” Robinson said.
What’s next for the vehicular homicide suspect?
Robinson said as much as she and colleagues try to move on, they’re likely to follow Morrow’s court case closely.
“As much as we try to move on and move forward it’s just — it’s always going to be what it is, and some of us can’t help ourselves,” she said.
Unless someone can raise enough money to post his bond, Morrow will remain at the jail until his Nov. 28 appearance hearing. Court documents out of Greene County show a public defender is representing him there. No attorney is listed in the Washington County online system.
Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks told News Channel 11 that the vehicular homicide by intoxication charge can carry a sentence of up to 30 years if a defendant has a prior felony conviction and eight to 12 years if not. Greene County court records show Morrow pleaded guilty to evading arrest in late 2020, which Tennessee Code Annotated shows as a class E felony.
The vehicular homicide charge is not probation-eligible, and defendants with good behavior serve anywhere from 30% to 60% of the sentence. The Tennessee General Assembly changed the law effective July 1 of this year, so offenses committed after that date require people to serve a minimum of 85% of their time.
Robinson said she and work colleagues will be following the case and that they still think of Pearson often.
“If somebody says something, it’s like, ‘Oh, that reminds us of A,’” she said. “Or this particular book or this thing happened, and we wish that they were here to be able to tell them about it. All the time.”
Robinson had a message from the library family to Pearson’s blood family.
“We love you guys very, very much,” she said. “I love you guys. We are all with you; we’re constantly thinking about you and praying for you, and as always, if you need anything at all, just reach out. We’re here.”