Wreck investigation continues

Published 12:18 am Friday, July 6, 2007

NATCHEZ — A Fourth of July celebration ended in tragedy when three local youth were killed and one seriously injured Wednesday night after their truck ran off a cliff and plunged roughly 60 feet into a tree.

Driver Michael Cody McJohnson, 21, 419 Eagle Road, Vidalia, was the sole survivor and was transported to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Passengers Nichlous Robert Kirby, 19, 279 Eagle Road, Justin Dale Wiley, 21, 868 Eagle Road, Vidalia and Kristin Leigh Holmes, 15, 416 Herring Lane, Woodville, was also killed.

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Police got a call about a fight at In the Mix Club on Homochitto Street at roughly 10:55 p.m., Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said.

The four in the accident reportedly drove up and stopped in the club’s parking lot, he said. There, they were allegedly involved in a confrontation with another group of people, he said.

“They allegedly used a blunt instrument, possibly a pipe, to fight with the victims,” Mullins said.

The driver, McJohnson, is being charged with aggravated assault for injuries resulting from the fight, Mullins said.

Three men, the alleged victims of the fight, were treated at and released from Natchez Regional Medical Center Wednesday night, Investigator Thomas Grennell said.

Joseph Wilson, 20, had to have 20 staples put in his head, Grennell said. Bradley Logan, 19, had eight staples, and Cade Cloy, 21, received 10 staples.

From the club, the pickup truck reportedly drove down Homochitto Street and turned onto John R. Junkin Drive.

A patrol officer responding to the call about the fight passed the truck going the opposite direction and clocked the truck at 86 mph, Mullins said.

The officer turned around to follow the truck, Mullins said.

“By the time the officer turned around, they were almost to Canal (Street),” Mullins said. “He never got close to them. It never even got to the chase stage. It was over before it started.”

When the officer turned onto Canal Street, the truck turned onto Briel Avenue, Mullins said.

“As soon as (the officer) turned onto Briel, he saw them go off into the bayou at the end of Briel,” Mullins said. “They laid down approximately 50 feet of skid marks and went down approximately 60 feet and struck a tree.”

Firefighters had to extract the driver with the Jaws of Life.

“They had to cut the roof off and the steering wheel off,” he said. “His legs were pinned. He was conscious. The three passengers were pronounced dead at the start.”

Adams County Coroner James Lee responded to the scene Wednesday night.

“What I found was every parent’s nightmare,” Lee said. “Apparently, the three persons who were fatalities in the accident all died of severe head trauma, neck injury and chest injuries. It appears they all died instantly from the impact.”

The three bodies were taken to the county morgue for examination, Lee said. The bodies were then released to funeral homes of their families’ choice.

“State law does not mandate we do autopsies on one-car accidents,” Lee said. “Toxicology tests will be done on each victim.”

“A preliminary blood test (of McJohnson) shows his blood alcohol level was over the legal limit,” Mullins said. “At this time, (the accident) is under investigation related to the alcohol and death of the passengers. Other charges are pending.”

McJohnson was in critical condition at UMC Thursday evening, his mother Rose Roberts said. His neck was broken in three places, and he had a broken shoulder and ribs, a punctured lung and a fractured back.

“They’ve still got more tests running,” Roberts said. “We don’t know what else they may find.”

Roberts said her son did not normally drive the 1998 GMC pickup because his license was suspended because of tickets.

Nichlous Kirby had said he would drive the group that night, Rose Roberts said. But when the group was involved in the fight at the club, McJohnson wanted to leave, she said.

“He said the only way he could get them to leave was to get in the truck and say, ‘I’m leaving,’” Roberts said. “Because they had been at that bar fighting, he ran from (the police).

“It was unfortunate the police would run down young people that they could simply get a tag and catch them alive the next day. They had to chase them down until they were killed.”

Mullins said his officer was not involved in a chase, and was never close enough to the truck to spur such a chase.

Roberts said the four were friends and that she was friends with the passengers’ parents. Her son was “grief-stricken,” Roberts said.

“These were his friends,” she said. “He said he wishes he were dead. How are any of us ever going to live with this?”

Justin Wiley went to school in Vidalia and had been working in an oil field, his uncle Mark Wiley said.

“He was a fun-loving guy,” Wiley said. “He loved to ride four-wheelers and bass fish — those were his two hobbies.”

Wiley said he thought Justin would want to be remembered as a fun-loving person and someone with a big heart.

Family members of the other victims could not be reached for comment Thursday.