COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Cookeville woman who witnessed a truck strike and kill a mother and two small children Tuesday tells News 2 she wishes she had never swerved out of the way and instead taken the hit for the family.
“I just sat there for ten minutes on the phone with my boyfriend just shaking like I don’t know what to do, that could have been me… Should it have been me? Why little babies?” Bettianne Israel said in tears.
She had just dropped her own son off at school and was driving to work down Interstate Drive just after 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“I went to get in the left turning lane… I looked up in my rearview and just saw this truck flying, he was coming on so fast, so last minute I whipped it back over into the lane to go straight and the car in front of me did the same thing,” Israel explained sobbing, “And he just, he swerved to the left to get around us, and then swerved back to the right, like he was going to go straight through and she was coming through the intersection, just…. and I knew on impact, whoever’s in that car is gone.”
Coming through the intersection down South Willow Avenue was 24-year-old Amanda Chatman and her two sons, 4-year-old Alexton and 3-year-old Braydon.
She was driving the boys to schools at Head Start, according to the kids’ father Brandon Henley who was at home with their baby girl.
According to police, the Tennessee Highway Patrol had been in pursuit of a truck from Monterey, off I-40 into Cookeville. When they got into town, THP slowed down, but the suspect continued at a very high rate of speed down Interstate Drive.
Once the collision occurred, Chatman’s small black Nissan had been completely crushed and thrown into a grass area on the other side of the road.
The Toyota Tacoma driven by suspect, 25-year-old Michael Shepherd, appeared to have rolled further down on Foreman Drive.
Israel said a Tennessee Highway Patrol vehicle pulled up shortly after and a trooper got out and ran to check the Nissan.
He put his head down, she said, and that’s when she knew whoever was in the car must have died on impact.
Israel had messaged Chatman’s sister on Facebook to tell her assure her that the family did not suffer, adding that she wished she could take back time to take the hit for the family.
“If I could take their place, I would in a heartbeat. I would stay in that lane and I would take the hit,” she said, “One grown woman who’s lived a lot versus a young woman with two small children… Just because somebody was selfish and made stupid decisions, I would take that in a heartbeat.”
“She was a very loving and caring mother of three,” Chatman’s sister, Kelly Likens, told News 2. “She was a very hard worker and those kids loved their momma.”
Shepherd was arrested and charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and evading arrest. He was transported to the Putnam County Jail where he was booked and will be brought before the General Sessions Court to address a bond for the vehicular homicide charges on Wednesday.
Shepherd suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The crash remains under investigation by the Cookeville Police Department with the assistance of the Office of the District Attorney General. They ask if anyone witnessed the crash and has not yet spoken with police, to please call the Criminal Investigation Division of the Cookeville Police Department at (931) 520-5372 or the main station at (931) 526-2125.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family.