Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Highlands’ Police Chief Bill Harrell was involved in a tragic vehicle accident in May that claimed the life of 13-year-old Franklin resident Shane Tastinger. After several months of investigation and review by both the North Carolina Highway Patrol and the District Attorney Ashely Welch’s office, Chief Harrell was formally charged in the accident Monday afternoon.
“After the release of an accident investigation by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the district attorney’s office has issued a misdemeanor death by vehicle charge against Highlands Police Chief Bill Harrell,” said Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor. “He was recently involved in an auto accident that resulted in the tragic loss of life. The North Carolina death-by-vehicle charge is made when a driver is issued a motor vehicle infraction or misdemeanor related to fatal traffic accidents. Chief Harrell was not charged with the criminal felony charge of death-by-vehicle that is charged in cases involving impairment and criminal negligence.”
Taylor released the statement on behalf of the town of Highlands and noted that regardless of a conviction, the town plans to stand behind Chief Harrell.
“The town has consulted with legal and professional advisors concerning the charges and Chief Harrell’s status,” said Taylor. “Whether found guilty or not guilty by the courts, this charge will not affect his professional certification or standing as a law enforcement officer. Bill Harrell will continue to serve as the Highlands Police Chief. I ask for your continued prayers of healing for everyone impacted by this tragic event.”
According to North Carolina Highway reports, the tragic accident was a result of a third driver, Adam Dover, losing a ladder along highway 441. Dover stopped his red Toyota in the median of the road to retrieve a ladder that had fallen from his truck near Sanderstown Road. A car driven by Shane’s father, John Tastinger Sr., was first to approach the stopped red Toyota and stopped while Dover retrieved the ladder. Along with Shane and John, the vehicle contained two other children. Chief Harrell, coming over the hill where the accident occurred, was unable to stop when approaching the stopped vehicles and collided with the Tastinger family. Chief Harrell was not in a work vehicle, but rather in his personal vehicle. During the investigation, it was determined that while speeding was not a factor in the accident, Chief Harrell did fail to reduce speed while approaching the accident.
Both John and Shane were taken to Mission Hospital where Shane passed away days after the accident. John continues to recover. The other children also are healing from minor injuries.
In addition to the charges filed against Chief Harrell on Monday, Dover was also charged with failure to secure a load and filing a false report after the investigation found that the ladder that was in the roadway causing the accident belonged to Dover.
Both Dover and Harrell are scheduled to make their first court appearances on Aug. 28.