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Judge denies diversion in hit-and-run death of man

A Carter County judge denied diversion on Monday for an Elizabethton woman who pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a 2013 accident that left a pedestrian dead.
The denial came after emotional testimony in court.
Chyanne Elizabeth Gobble, 21, pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, a Class E felony. Gobble was entering her guilty plea in court on Thursday when she nearly collapsed in the courtroom, causing the proceedings to be delayed until Monday. Gobble pled under what is called an “open plea,” which means sentencing was left up to the court to decide as opposed to an agreement worked out between the defendant and the state.
Gobble was indicted in May of this year in connection with a 2013 motor vehicle accident on the Elizabethton Highway in the area of Taylortown Road, in which police said the car she was driving struck a pedestrian, and that she left the scene.
The pedestrian, Christopher Dale Hughes, 39, later died as a result of his injuries.
As part of the plea proceedings, Gobble’s attorneys Brad Sproles and Joshua Hardin were seeking judicial diversion for their client. Under state law, first-time offenders may be eligible to have their record expunged of their conviction if they successfully complete the terms for diversion set forth by the court.
“We would urge the court to give Ms. Gobble strong consideration for judicial diversion,” Sproles said. “We ask that she be granted judicial diversion but if not, we ask that she be granted probation for whatever length the court decides.”
Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks said he did not feel the interest of the public would be served by granting Gobble diversion.
“I believe there are enough factors in this case that support the court denying diversion,” Brooks said.
Before issuing a ruling, Judge Robert Cupp heard testimony from Gobble herself, Gobble’s grandmother, a witness to the accident, and members of Hughes’ family.
Gobble testified about the events on the night of the crash and why she left the scene of the crash. She said when the accident happened she knew she had struck something, but she was not sure what. She said she was scared, so she drove home to her grandparent’s house.
She then testified that she and her grandfather returned to the location on the Elizabethton Highway to see if they could determine what she had struck. When they returned, she said, they saw an ambulance at the scene and they returned home to call the police.
Brooks asked why she and her grandfather didn’t stop and speak to police when they returned to the scene of the crash.
“I was in shock,” she said. “I wanted to be comforted.”
As Gobble testified about the event, members of Hughes’ family wept in the courtroom and at one point, some members of the family left the courtroom for a time.
Gobble’s grandmother testified that when her granddaughter initially returned home from the crash, she was upset because of the damage to her vehicle.
Kristin Honeycutt, who witnessed the crash, testified that she was driving on the Elizabethton Highway when she saw a car off the side of the road and she stopped to see if the driver – later identified as Hughes, needed any help. She told the court Hughes had walked up to her vehicle and the two of them were speaking when the accident happened.
“I was looking at him when it happened. I was talking to him when the impact happened,” Honeycutt said. “When I saw the impact of her hitting him, he flew at least 50 feet and landed in a ditch.”
Honeycutt also testified Gobble did not stop or even slow down after striking Hughes.
Tonya Hughes, Chris Hughes’ mother, cried as she told the court the death of her son had greatly impacted her family, especially her son’s three children.
“The Lord knows what I have seen these children have to suffer,” she said.
She also talked about the crash that killed her son. She said she was on her way home and actually drove by the crash site and saw the ambulance as it was leaving.
“I watched that rescue squad taking my son to the hospital not knowing it was my child,” she said, adding when the police came to her home to tell her about the wreck that she “passed out” in her driveway.
She testified she was able to make it to the hospital just before her son died of his injuries. “We held Chris’ hand as he took the last three breaths of his life,” she said.
Tonya Hughes asked that the court hold Gobble accountable for her actions and for the life she took.
“The impact it has took on me will live with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “That little boy loved his daddy and those girls loved their father.”
Cupp discussed the particulars of the case before handing down a decision on the diversion issue.
“There is no question in my mind that she knew she hit a human being,” Cupp said. “Her concern was about her car. When I asked why she went back home she said ‘I needed comforting.’
“This man is laying in a ditch dying and she was worried about her car.”
Cupp said, in his opinion, the fact that Gobble and her grandfather went back to the scene of the crash shows that Gobble knew she had struck a person rather than an animal.
“They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t think she hit somebody,” Cupp said.
Cupp said the issue of diversion boiled down to the circumstances of the offense.
“Do I pat her on the head and say ‘It’s OK. I’ll fix it to where you don’t have a record’ or do I send a message that this sort of conduct will not be tolerated?” Cupp said. “She needs to understand that life is about more than comfort; it is about consequences for conduct.”
Cupp then denied diversion for Gobble, which means the conviction will remain on her record. A sentencing hearing for Gobble was set for Thursday, July 24, in Criminal Court.