A Georgia judge ruled on Tuesday that state Representative Trey Kelley won’t be charged after he didn’t call 911 when a friend called and told him about a fatal hit-and-run.
Kelley was charged with reckless conduct last year after prosecutors said it was wrong for him not to report the car crash Ralph “Ryan” Dover III told him about. Prosecutors also tried to charge Kelley with elements of the hit-and-run.
Dover hit Eric Keais with his SUV on September 13, 2019. Keais was later found by a police officer in a ditch severely wounded. He later died from his injuries. Dover didn’t call 911 after the crash occurred; he called his friend Kelley.
Kelley then proceeded to call the Cedartown police chief Jamie Newsom who was at his home. Kelley says he told officers that Keais told him he wasn’t sure if he hit a person or a deer. An officer was then sent to the crime scene where they discovered Keais, a bicyclist, according to authorities.
Superior Court Senior Judge Stephen Schuster dismissed Kelley’s charges because he said failing to call 911 after what his friend disclosed wasn’t a crime.
“The hit and run statute does not apply to Kelley because he was not the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident, in the vehicle or at the scene at the time of the accident,” he wrote in his decision. “The law imposes no duty upon Kelley to contact law enforcement.”
Kelley could not be charged with reckless conduct because prosecutors did not claim the Cedartown Republican had committed an underlying crime.
Schuster said prosecutors were impermissibly stretching the law to create a “judicially crafted crime” by combining some elements of the hit-and-run law, even though Kelley was not charged with that offense, with the reckless conduct law.
“No reading of either the hit and run statute or the reckless conduct statute leaves a reasonable person with the impression that a disinterested third party, not present for an automobile accident, who later learns of the purported accident is under a legal duty pursuant to the reckless conduct statute to immediately contact 911,” Schuster wrote.
The charges against Dover still stand. There’s also a federal lawsuit filed by Eric Keais’ father, Manfred Keais, seeking money damages from Dover, Kelley, Newsome and the city of Cedartown. The defendants deny wrongdoing and are currently trying to get the case dismissed.
Kelley’s lawyer, Lester Tate, said in a statement that the ruling is “long-awaited vindication of the fact that Trey Kelley did nothing wrong.”
“We would first, again, offer our condolences and prayers to the family and friends of Eric Keais who tragically lost his life in September of 2019,” Tate said. “But we have always said and always believed that Rep. Kelley broke no law that night. He was not in the car when Mr. Keais was involved in the accident and did not know what had been hit when he arrived at the scene.”
Kelley this year stepped down from his post as House majority whip after he was indicted and his wife filed for divorce.
A lawyer for Manfred Keais did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.