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UPDATED 12/17/20 5:55 p.m……. Per the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, Derrick Wayne Chavers has appeared before a judge for his first appearance. Chavers was released on a $250,000 bond and his case has been bound over to await the action of the next Grand Jury.
By RUSSELL TURNER
Friends and family are struggling to make sense of the tragic death of a 17-year-old Runnelstown man who was one of two people killed as the result of an ATV wreck in Greene County this past weekend.
Thomas Levi Lewis, 17, of Runnelstown, died Sunday at Forrest General Hospital from injuries he suffered early Saturday morning while leaving a large house party in Leakesville. Lewis and several others were struck by a side-by-side ATV as they walked down Louisiana Street where the party was being held.
Greene County Coroner Ladd Pulliam said Wesley Kyle Smith, 23, of Lucedale, was pronounced dead at Greene County Hospital shortly after the incident. Several others sustained injuries in the crash.
A George County man has been charged with two counts of homicide (manslaughter) and one count of aggravated assault in the matter. Derrick Lane Chavers, 35, of Lucedale, turned himself into authorities in Greene County late Wednesday afternoon. He is being held in the Greene County Jail pending an initial hearing in Justice Court, which has not yet been set.
Chavers was allegedly the driver of a Can Am Cammander ATV that plowed into a group of people who were leaving the party early Saturday morning in Leakesville. Chavers is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of Smith and Lewis. Christopher Cody Smith, 25 of Lucedale, was also seriously injured in the incident, leading to the aggravated assault charge against Chavers.
While the investigation has led to an arrest, Lewis’ brother Chad Sullivan said the family was still trying to come to terms with the passing of a young man that was full of life and looking forward to bright future.
“I don’t really think it has truly sunk in yet,” Sullivan said of his brother’s death. “He was a fun-loving person that loved hanging out with friends when he wasn’t working or in school.”
“He worked as a carpenter’s helper during the day and went to school at night (in the Jones College welding program).”
The deceased, those injured and the driver and passenger(s) on the ATV had reportedly all been at a party Friday night and early Saturday morning at 1221 Louisiana Street in Leakesville. Rumors are wide-ranging, but some reports indicate 100 people or more were at the property at the time.
There have been conflicting reports from people at the scene about who was in the off-road vehicle and who was driving it at the time of the crash. Police had previously declined to say what their investigation had determined along those lines, but Chavers and his son reportedly told police at the scene that the youngster was driving the ATV at the time of the wreck. Officials issued warrants for Chavers’ arrest Tuesday afternoon, but it is unclear whether Chavers’ story changed or if police used other evidence to place him behind the wheel in pressing the charges against him.
An eyewitness video circulating in the community gives a glimpse of the wreck, but the copy viewed by The Dispatch did not clearly show how the wreck occurred. Another video circulating in the community reportedly shows one of the fights that broke out at the gathering. The newspaper has not obtained a copy of that video.
Unofficial reports paint a chaotic picture that included fights between multiple people. Police responded to several noise complaints about the gathering prior to the wreck, but Greene County Sheriff Stanley McLeod said the officer responding did not see a reason to break up the event. No arrests were made at the scene. McLeod said the investigation into the matter by his department and the Mississippi Highway Patrol is ongoing and authorities plan to interview additional witnesses. Anyone who was in attendance at the gathering is asked to come forward and speak with investigators, McLeod added.
As with all criminal cases, Chavers is considered innocent of the charges against him until proven otherwise in a court of law.