Family seeks new law for dangerous felons
By Wes Wade | (email@example.com)
The family of 16-year-old Amelia Keown, the William Blount junior killed in a fatal two-vehicle accident Aug. 14, said they believe the crash could have been avoided.
After spending more than a month studying the circumstances surrounding the crash — and the criminal history of the alleged at-fault driver — they’re now questioning the state’s judicial and justice systems.
Amanda Moore and Wayne Keown, Amelia Keown’s mother and grandfather, respectively, are now trying to get a new law passed that imposes stricter sentences for convicted felons that have proven to pose a serious threat to the public.
John Charles Perkins, a 43-year-old Maryville resident, was clocked by Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper John Pedigo traveling 73 mph in a 55-mph zone, THP Capt. Cheryl Sanders told the Daily Times the day after the accident. According to Pedigo’s report, Perkins was traveling northbound on U.S. 411 South the afternoon of Aug. 14 when he crossed the center turn lane and into southbound traffic, striking Keown’s vehicle head-on. The crash killed her instantly. Perkins died the following morning at University of Tennessee Medical Center.
Moore said she learned of Perkins’ criminal history shortly after the accident — a history dating back to 1989 and consisting of numerous traffic violations and several charges of theft, drug possession and delivery, violation of probation, contempt of court, evading police, felony escape and robbery charges.
In 2005, Perkins was sentenced in Blount County Circuit Court to 12 years on three aggravated robbery charges and two attempted aggravated robbery charges. Two of those robberies occurred at Maryville conveinence stores, according to Maryville police reports.
On Jan. 17, 2005, a clerk at the Exxon E-Z Stop located at 708 Montvale Road, reported that a man entered the store at around 11 p.m. and ordered the clerk to give him all the money in the cash register. The clerk told police the man held his hands in his jacket pockets as if he had a firearm and threatened to kill the clerk if she did not hand over the cash.
Perkins was eventually arrested and found guilty for that robbery, as well as a similar one nearly two weeks later at the Rocky Top Shell Station, located at 913 Montvale Road.
What troubles Moore and Wayne Keown, they said, is that Perkins was sentenced to serve 12 years consecutively on five robbery charges total, including the two Maryville robberies. Two were Class A Felonies, two Class C and one Class B.
Perkins served four years of that time and was paroled on Nov. 19, 2009. His parole was scheduled to expire in 2015.
Seeking new law
Wayne Keown said he first believes Perkins should have been sentenced consecutively on the robbery charges, which means he would still be behind bars.
“If he was sentenced to 40 (years) he’d at least be in there for 12, and my little Amelia would still be alive today,” Keown said.
He’s also upset that the board of parole looked at Perkins’ history and decided to parole him.
“I’m all for second chances, even third chances,” Keown said. “But after the third chance, if they haven’t learned, they won’t. They’re too old and set in their ways and once they’ve gotten into this lifestyle, they can’t get out.”
Moore and Keown are now trying to get a new law passed, similar to the “three strikes” law, that would keep repeat offenders behind bars if they’ve shown to be a danger to the public. They argue that the language of the current law is too vague and needs to be changed.
Cited while paroled
Even more troubling for Moore and Keown is Perkins’ driving record. He’s received traffic violations in Arizona, North Carolina, and Tennessee. He’s had several speeding tickets for traveling 20 mph or more above the speed limit, driving on a revoked license, reckless driving, violation of the noise ordinace, faliling to yield to emergency vehicles and fleeing or evading police. Those charges and citations date back to 1989.
While Perkins was on parole, he was involved in five vehicle accidents in Blount County before the Aug. 14 fatality. Three were two-vehicle accidents and, according to the police reports, Perkins was at-fault. Another involved only Perkins’ vehicle and he told police he was experiencing mechanical problems. He also cited mechanical problems in one of the two-vehicle accidents. Two of the crashes — which both occurred in the city of Maryville and involved another vehicle — occurred within three days of one another.
Additionally, Perkins was cited by Maryville Police officers with theft by shoplifting in Nov. 2011 after reportedly trying to steal two bottles of cologne from Belk inside Foothills Mall.
While Perkins was supposed to inform his parole officer any time he came into contact with law enforcement, said Tenneessee Department of Correction Communications Director Dorinda Carter, he failed to report any of the traffic incidents or the shoplifting charge. And because parolees are only checked for arrests, his parole officer and the board of parole were never made aware of them, Carter said.
Both Moore and Keown said they believe the entire justice system needs to be changed. Or, at the very least, reviewed.
“Before this happened I always thought Tennessee was pretty tough on their criminals,” Moore said. And what I’ve learned is they make it easy for them to continue to do crimes and have no consequences for them.”
Moore said she’s meeting with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state representative Bob Ramsey this week to discuss how to move forward with “Amelia’s Law.” More than 6,000 people have signed an online petition supporting such a law, and an addiitonal 4,000 or so paper ballots are making their way across the state, she said.
Rhonda King, Perkins’ fiance, said her heart goes out to Amelia Keown’s family. Yet she said that Perkins was trying to turn his life around since he was released from prison and that they lost someone dear as well.
“He had gotten home from prison, and he had turned his life around,” King said. “He had done his time for his crime, and he had not been in any trouble since he got home.”