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Two young men killed after being struck by off road buggy at large gathering in Leakesville
By RUSSELL TURNER
The George County man charged with two counts of homicide (manslaughter) and one count of aggravated assault in connection with a deadly ATV crash in Greene County last weekend has been released on bond.
Derrick Lane Chavers, 35, of Lucedale, appeared before a judge in Leakesville on Thursday for his first appearance. Chavers was released from the Greene County Jail on a $250,000 bond shortly after his hearing and his case bound over to await the action of the next Grand Jury.
Chavers 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 a large house party early Saturday morning in Leakesville. Chavers is charged with manslaughter in the deaths of Wesley Kyle Smith, 23, of Lucedale and Thomas Levi Lewis, 17, of Runnelstown. Greene County Coroner Ladd Pulliam said Smith was pronounced dead at Greene County Hospital shortly after the incident. Lewis died from his injuries Sunday at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. Christopher Cody Smith, 25 of Lucedale, was also seriously injured in the incident, leading to the aggravated assault charge against Chavers. Other sustained minor injuries.
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.
The deceased, those injured and the driver and passenger on the ATV had reportedly all been at a party at 1221 Louisiana Street attended by a large crowd. Rumors are wide-ranging, but some reports indicate 100 people or more were at the property at the time.
An eyewitness video circulating in the community gives a glimpse of the wreck, but the copy viewed by the Herald 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 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.